CHAIRMEN: Senator Coleman
Representative G. Fox
VICE CHAIRMAN: Senator Doyle
SENATORS: Kissel, Bye, Kelly, McLachlan, Meyer, Musto, Welch
REPRESENTATIVES: Rebimbas, Adinolfi, Albis, Baram, Buck-Taylor, Carpino, Dillon, Flexer, D. Fox, Godfrey, Gonzalez, Grogins, Holder-Winfield, Hovey, Klarides, Labriola, Riley, O'Dea, O'Neill, Serra, Smith, Walker, Walko
REP. G. FOX: Good morning, once again, everybody. We are about to commence the Judiciary Committee Public Hearing for Friday, April 5, 2013. There are members of the committee who are throughout the building today and also some are listening to this testimony in other parts of the building so just keep that in mind.
I would like to just make a couple of announcements before we begin. First, it's important that everybody knows that all of the public hearing testimony, whether it's written testimony or spoken here today, is public information and anything you say is part of that record. So it is accessible to the public, so just keep that in mind, if you could, when you are testifying.
Also with respect to Hearing Room 2C, which is the room that we are in, I need to make this announcement just for safety purposes and it says that I'd ask you to note the location of, and access to, the exits in this hearing room. The two doors through which you entered the room are the emergency exits and are marked with exit signs. In the event of an emergency please walk quickly to the nearest exit, after exiting the room proceed to the main stairs or follow the exit signs to one of the fire stairs. Please quickly exit the building and follow any instructions from the Capitol Police. Do not delay and do not return unless and until you are advised that it is safe to do so. In the event of a lockdown announcement, please remain in the hearing room and stay away from the exit doors until an all-clear announcement is heard.
It is our procedure to devote the first hour of testimony to public officials. We, then, will turn to members of the public. If we have not go through the public officials list in the first hour, we will alternate with members of the public and the public officials until we conclude that first list. Also, please limit your testimony to three minutes. You will hear a bell that goes off and, of course, questions can extend the time but if you could limit your initial marks to three minutes. We'd ask you to -- when you hear the bell, to summarize your comments at that time. So, with that, I will start with our public officials list and the first name that we have is State Senator Len Fasano.
And good morning, Senator Fasano.
SENATOR FASANO: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. I thank you very much.
There is two bills I am going to talk about, one extraordinarily briefly because this committee had passed this bill before. That's as committee Bill 178, and, essentially, what that bill said is if a parent has been terminated because of abuse of a child, they should be continued to obligated to pay child support. Abigail Tru, who brought this to my attention, is here and she will be talking more about this. This committee has passed this twice out of committee and, twice, it's gotten through one house and then it died on the calendar last year. So I think that it is a worthwhile bill, so I just wanted to bring that to your attention and support it.
And the next one is Raised Bill 6685, the presumption of shared custody in disputes involving care and custody of minor children. I have also submitted the State of Arizona, who recently passed a bill regarding shared custody, has sort of a reference guide to a state that has recognized this. And what this deals with primarily is parent alienation.
Parent alienation is a real factor. And what happens in the Connecticut, as in most other states, is we do have joined custody but we have physical custody with one parent that sometimes, either consciously or subconsciously, the parent has got the physical custody of the child, sort of, promotes an anti-feeling towards the noncustodial parent and that has caused the noncustodial parent to be alienated from the lives of the children and it accelerates over time.
Now this is a big issue. Arizona law deal with it in such a manner to say that if it's recognized, the court system calls folks in, corrects the problem, and there are certain ways of intervening on the issue. We don't have that in Connecticut so we are looking to, sort of, model it after this.
Let me just give you a bigger picture, if I may. I had a conversation yesterday with Judge Monroe. I've known Judge Monroe for years and she is the family court administrator. And Judge Monroe and I go back from when I was practicing in New Haven. And we talked about family courts and, in particular, three components: parent alienation; guardian ad litems, DALs; and AMC, attorney for the minor child. And when we talked about it, I think what this committee has to understand is the impact of the bills that we passed well intentioned had an impact that I don't think this body wants to have.
Let me explain. A GAL is appointed by lawyers -- my profession is going to get a little mad at me, that's all right -- GALs are appointed by lawyers who get together and decide to point a particular GAL. Now family law is a close nucleus of lawyers. Those of us who practice, if you practice family you do very little outside of family law, and if you don't practice family you don't venture into that world. It is a unique unto itself. So when lawyers kind of get together and pick a GAL, they all know each other. When the GAL is appointed, these fees that the GAL charges are anywhere between 250 and 335 dollars an hour for an appointed person by the court. That is a huge fee.
A lot of people want to be GALs. In fact, when they had classes -- and I applaud Governor -- sorry -- I applaud Judge Monroe for having classes to teach the role of a GAL -- she had a thousand people showing up to her class. She was surprised. I'm not. I'm not surprised because when you appointed a GAL, there is not oversight, there is no one checking your work. You work for the kids, and if you say it's in the best interest of your kids -- of the kids. That's all your obligation is. So these bills have gotten out of hand.
You'll hear stories today of GAL who have hit bills 8, 9,000 dollars a month, a month. And here is the problem. The lawyers who appointed the GAL, know the GAL, so if me and Chairman Fox were litigants in family court matters and we're in Family Court, we see each other all the time, it would not be out of the questions for me to say, Hey, you know what, if you have a case, I'd love to be your GAL, and for him to say that to me.
Now, if my client is upset at Chairman Fox because he is charging too much, one may argue that I may not be as tough as if I didn't know the person. I would suggest the GAL should not practicing substantial amount of their cases in the court for which they are a GAL; otherwise, the hint of impropriety, which is all across our Practice Books, must be raised.
Some may argue, well, Len, GALs are very talented and they should be paid that amount of money. You pay your lawyer that amount of money. I would say that right, but I have a right to fire my lawyer. If I don't think my lawyer who's charging my $335 is doing a right job, I say I'll fire you. I want somebody else. If they are not giving me the back up or I don't think they are doing right, I can get rid of them. That's not true at the GAL. You have to go to the court and ask. It's a difficult task. Now, if I'm denied, I would suggest that GAL probably is not going to be so friendly to me thereafter because I have been attacking the integrity of that GAL. So it's a system that really is out of whack.
I brought this up to Judge Monroe. And what I suggested was that I would produce JFS language with the permission of this body to have a task force -- and I know that word doesn't mean a lot in this building from time to time -- have a task force where Judge Monroe would be the chairman on the task force. And I would purpose JFS language that in this task force we would have folks who served the GALs, AMCs, folks from the bar and the public who don't really have an axe to grind as much as a problem to solve. They would be put on this committee to understand.
There is an orthopedic doctor who makes a good living. He had to pay for his lawyer, his wife's lawyer 50 percent, the GAL, the AMC, and the psychiatrist. After four years, he declared bankruptcy because he was paying $20,000 a month for these bills. And mind this, if you don't pay the bill to a court-appointed person, you suffer sanctions that include being put in incarceration. That is what you are up against.
Cases are settled based upon the threat of bills coming and more coming. That's wrong policy, not for a family. We should have cases that are settled based upon agreements between the spouses and ex-spouses, not based upon my ability to pay. That was not the intent of this body when we passed these laws. I know that was not the intent of this body. But is has gotten out of control because there is no oversight. So I would suggest that, with your permission, that we put folks who are dealing with the system to make recommendations to all of you for a system that, perhaps, can be more fair, more well respected because you are going to hear angry voices today. And they are not doing it because they think they have been hurt in their case as much as they are doing it because their case is over and they don't want it to happen to others. So that is my testimony for today, Chairman Fox. I appreciate you and members of the committee for listening.
REP. G. FOX: Well, thank you, Senator.
Are there questions for Senator Fasano?
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Senator, thank you for that information. I can agree with you because I heard -- I have last year, a couple of mothers that came to my office and they have that concern. Some of the mothers they went broke and not having the opportunity to see their kids because they didn't have the money to pay, which is -- I think that's terrible.
Now my question for you is why, then, Judge Monroe? Why do you want her to be the chair of that task force when, in my opinion, she was one of those GALs you were saying before? And I heard complaints about that -- mothers that came to me saying, you know, I'm having this problem, me talking to her, she don't want to understand, she is not helping us. And they end up -- this lady went flat broke. So can we maybe look for another person to be chair of the task force?
SENATOR FASANO: Representative Gonzalez, I think that is a great question. The reason why I thought of Judge Monroe is because for the plan to work you have to have buy-in, to have buy-in, you have got to have the person who is in charge of the program be assured that the changes they're going to endorse and follow through. I have, also, had a great relationship with Judge Monroe. She has changed the GAL system since she had been there. Before, there were no classes. There was no education system you had to go through -- if you wanted to be in GAL, you put your name on a list and you would just get picked. So she recognized the problems, and I want to recognize that she understands it.
After my hour long conversation with her yesterday -- we missed each other for a couple weeks. But after my hour long conversation with her yesterday, I honestly think that she believes reform needs to take place. And I honestly think that she gets the problem.
It was a particular case of some notoriety that really has brought this matter to the forefront. And she was well aware of that case, and I was impressed by that, and she was very well aware of some other issues. And I think that having her as a chair, she brings more issues to the table. But, you know, is that like the be-all and end-all for me? No, I want I want a task force and whatever I have to do to get it, I'm there so -- but that would be the reason why.
REP. GONZALEZ: So you said that you will work to create a task force that she will be in charge and to have more members of that task force and, in your opinion, who will appoint those members for that task force?
SENATOR FASANO: Correct.
REP. GONZALEZ: Who will appoint?
SENATOR FASANO: I would have the chairs, ranks, and then, usually, we have the governor, and so forth, and all the way down the typical appointments that are in our bills. But I would specify where they have to come from I think it the critical part. You know, members of the family bar would be a few people, general public who have had divorce issues who want to bring some issues to light -- those types of things so I apologize for not having it written out but Judge Monroe sort of -- and I came to this conclusion yesterday and wanted to share it with the committee. So I didn't have time between yesterday and today to put it together. But it would be the typical appointments that you would see that we do in the building.
REP. GONZALEZ: That's interesting, and I would like to be in one way or another be involved based on that.
SENATOR FASANO: I would be happy to send you a draft and work with you on any suggestions that you have.
REP. GONZALEZ: Based on, you know, a lot of complaints that I have heard in the past came from the Latino community. And I think that, -- you know, some of them are being ignored when they complain about the GAL. And I would like to see if it is possible. I would like to get involved.
SENATOR FASANO: Thank you, Representative.
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Representative Baram.
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Senator.
I'm just wondering with my knowledge of the GAL. The court normally appoints a party whether it's an attorney or somebody else to act in that position and, as you have pointed out now, training is required for these individuals. So I am just curious why you feel that there is no accountability if, in fact, it's the court that is appointing, you know, supposedly a neutral. The court has to approve the legal fees of that individual so if the fees are excessive, you would hope the court who exercise its discretion in deciding whether the fees were fair. And in most instances that I'm aware of, a GAL is appointed primarily when there are issues of custody or visitation, which can be very contentious and serious involving the best interest of the child. So I'm just wondering, you know, why your perception is more negative given the controls that are in place.
And I would just add, I certainly am aware that these fees can get to be, you know, huge sums. But those tend to be the more difficult contentious cases, and I would hope more of the exception than the rule. I am just curious what it is that you see that is undermining the accountability that I think may already exist in the court system.
SENATOR FASANO: Thank you, Representative, for the question.
First, I always thought the court appointed GALs. Judge Monroe, herself, told me yesterday that 90 to 95 percent of the GALs are appointed by the lawyers agreeing to the GAL. So it's not court appointed. In fact, one of the changes that we briefly talked about was whether the court should have jurisdiction to appoint the GAL. I would still suggest to you that -- I don't have a solution to that -- whether it should be the judge. I don't think it should be the lawyers. But let me start again and say that the judge does not appoint. It's the lawyers who agree among themselves, tell the judge, and then the judge makes the official appoint from the bench to start the process. But it's the lawyers. And that's where the problem begins.
When you say you get to review a bill, that's part of our problem. Because if I appoint you as a GAL because I like you, I know you from the courthouse and we work well together. And tomorrow you may be on the other side of the case from me or you're mad at me because I'm tore you apart on your attorney fees that may hurt me and my ability with my client dealing with your case. You know, it's that type of perception, at the very least, that causes the problems for those people who are subject to the GAL fess.
You may hear stories today on how GAL fees did not match the work that was done, for instance, phone messages. I talked to Attorney So-and-so being my counsel in a case, but my counsel doesn't have a corresponding phone call that they talk to that GAL. And when those issues are raised, there is nobody there fighting -- I would argue -- for the client. Because the system is -- forgive me for saying this, I'll get a lot of calls I'm sure from my fellow members -- is an inbred system. And there is no outside review of an inbred system, and that's the problem.
I'm saying whether that is accurate or not, I would argue it is perceived, and that's enough for me to say that we need to look at it and figure out. People are in front of our court system on the most delicate issue being family, at the very least, have to walk away saying that the system was not built in a manner that is not conducive to the problem that they have. And they leave with hard feelings and think we failed them. And when I put out there that I wanted to hear some folks who were upset with it -- I had it in North Haven, a get-together -- there had to be over 100, 150 people that showed up, all similar problems dealing with GALs.
These were not just the judge made a bad decision and I didn't get my kids. This was, you know, I couldn't afford to continue on with the case, and when I argued over the fee I was just told I had to pay. So if we have that problem, at the very least, let's look at it. And the task force can grab that information and find out if those high fees are just generated by those cases that are contentious. What's the average GAL fee?
I think $330 for a GAL fee is absurd. I think it is extraordinarily high. It's not private counseling. Someone appointed by the court, I find that extraordinarily high. That's my view. I may be wrong, but that's in New Haven, not many lawyers in New Haven get $335 an hour. So that would be where I would say lawyers are appointing; we need to change that. We need to look at the system, and it doesn't hurt to look.
REP. BARAM: Thank you. I would -- I'm not against a task force study, and I always think that good things can come out of that. I would just say that with regards to the lawyers who are appointed GALs that lawyers are always interacting with one another and they are on different sides of the case. It's not unusual for a lawyer to have a couple of cases with other lawyers where they are on one side in one case and on the other side in other case. And you would hope or think that their ethical obligations would not cause them to, in any way, prejudice or retaliate against somebody else just because on one case they are having a difficult time. So, again, I am always open to studies. I just think that for most of the lawyers I think they do comply with their ethical obligations and canons and that they understand that different cases require different dynamics.
SENATOR FASANO: And please, I'm not casting dispersions of that nature, but I am saying the perception is out there that there is an issue that that close relationship may have an impact. And if GALs are from different jurisdictions, you have gotten rid of that perception at the very least. And the difficulty is a client can't say I want to remove the GAL like he can say I want to get rid of my counsel.
But I appreciate it and thank you so much for your questions.
REP. G. FOX: Representative Smith.
REP. SMITH: Morning, Mr. Chairman, and thank you.
And good morning, Senator.
SENATOR FASANO: Morning. Are we in P&D right now? No.
REP. SMITH: Hopefully not because we are both missing if we are.
I am one of those lawyers who -- I'm on the outside. You're right. It's, kind of, you either do it or you don't. And I learned a long time ago that it wasn't for me. So it's not my area, certainly, of expertise. But just to be sure that I am looking at the same the bill because I heard your testimony and I'm trying to see how it fits in. Is it 6685 that we are talking about?
SENATOR FASANO: Yes, sir.
REP. SMITH: Okay. And with the Bill 6685, are you looking to make this bill a study, the changes to this bill, or are you looking to have the changes that are proposed changed and also do a study?
SENATOR FASANO: No. I would propose after having the conversations with Judge Monroe last night. I would propose JFS language to take this, with the permission of the Chairs and Ranks, take this and do substitute language to make it the task force study with Judge Monroe helping out in that task force. So that would be my proposal. And in all candor, I think that the chances of this bill getting through the legislature this year are slim for a variety of reasons. Whenever you have a new issue that seems to be changing nature, then it has very little success in this building until it catches on. But I think doing a task force that has the imprimatur of the experts saying we need to do something, it's important.
I know that this body, last year, had that alimony issue that I think got out of committee. And I think that that is sort of like what this bill, sort of saying, we need to take a look at this family court in many ways.
REP. SMITH: And I assume then if it does get out for a study that the new section that talks about sanctions and, perhaps, some criminal related charges would be part of the study, as well, to see if we want to go there and whether -- even if we to go there. Because I suspect if you're misrepresenting information or testimony to a judge, it is probably already an offense, you know, perjury, things of that nature.
So I am not sure whether we need that so I hope we take a look at that, as well.
SENATOR FASANO: That is Law Tribune article about someone not paying their fees, and they ended up being incarcerated for failure to pay the fee. It became a big article in the Law Tribune. I can't remember the edition, and I forgot to take it with me from my office in New Haven so it does happen. And I would like to take a look at that, too.
REP. SMITH: And just in terms of the fees themselves, I know we do in other parts of the law, for instance, in foreclosure matters and probate matters, attorneys are routinely appointed or even handle cases on a committee sales appointed by the court where their fees are limited by the court in terms -- they can only charge X number of dollars, whatever it may be. And it's a much lower rate than the standard rate that attorneys may otherwise charge. So that is something we may also want to consider so there is not such a range and disparage -- discrepancy in terms of what one lawyer or GAL may charge versus another.
And I agree with your suggestion, going outside of the district, perhaps, could be helpful because you probably do have some of that -- even though we all have our ethical obligations, certainly, it's more difficult sometimes to go after somebody and the fees they charged when you might be using that person again in another case. So I appreciate your testimony, but I think those are a couple things we can probably help out with.
SENATOR FASANO: I thank you for that. And I don't think anything is prohibited that if you are by GAL in one case and you and I have a case against, you know, you're representing your client and you have a case going on there and you're a GAL there. There is nothing that prohibits that, and I think that has other issues if you are trying to settle this case but you are arguing that your fees are too high over there. It's just human nature. Thank you very much.
REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
REP. G. FOX: Representative Albis --
Representative Gonzalez, may I just go through the people that haven't yet gone?
REP. GONZALEZ: That's okay.
REP. G. FOX: Representative Albis, Representative O'Neill, then --
REP. ALBIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, Senator Fasano, good to see you.
SENATOR FASANO: Good morning.
REP. ALBIS: And thank you for discussing these important issues with us.
At the beginning of your testimony, you mentioned an Arizona law. I haven't had a chance to look it over, but I'm just wondering does that deal with some of the issues that you've been talking about thus far.
SENATOR FASANO: On the parent alienation side, more than on the GAL side.
REP. ALBIS: Okay. And what exactly does that law do?
SENATOR FASANO: Say it one more time?
REP. ALBIS: What does that law do in terms of parental alienation?
SENATOR FASANO: It starts a program that says that there's -- which we kind of have in Connecticut but it's not spelled out as well -- that -- and I've given a copy, I think, to all of our members -- but what it does is it allows the court to intercede early when it sees a parent alienation red flags going off and intercede and be proactive in that.
And one of the things that Judge Monroe and I talked about is that interceding in parental alienation, when you start to see those little red flags is more important than waiting for it to come at the end.
So this bill, sort of, spells out more how you find it and what do you do to look at it and how shared responsibility goes through and is more defined in this Arizona law, getting rid of a lot of grey areas that we currently have in our Connecticut Law.
REP. ALBIS: And do you know how it defines parental alienation?
SENATOR FASANO: I don't remember.
REP. ALBIS: And is this a law that has already been signed into law or is it a pending bill?
SENATOR FASANO: I believe it's already been signed into law.
REP. ALBIS: Okay. All right. Well, thank you very much for your testimony.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SENATOR FASANO: Thank you, Representative Albis.
REP. G. FOX: Representative O'Neill.
REP. O'NEILL: I'm sorry I came in as you were testifying so I missed the first part.
In looking at, I guess, it's 6685, I think that's the number of the bill, I don't see anything in there about guardian ad litems. I heard you talking, pretty much, was all about that. Is your idea something to just use this as a vehicle, or is that bill supposed to be -- the contents of it supposed to be the subject matter of this task force and, in addition to that, this guardian ad litem issue? I'm a little confused.
SENATOR FASANO: Sure, and understandably so. We started off -- I started off when I submitted the bill way back of parent alienation. As I got into the parent alienation issue, the GAL issue started to shine as an issue that, sort of, dovetails into parent alienation. So --
REP. O'NEILL: Well, I guess my question is -- my question, though, is, is the parent alienation supposed to be a part of the task force study?
SENATOR FASANO: Both, the parent alienation and GAL to be a JFS if the committee was so inclined to get rid of this bill, substitute it with the task force bill to look at the parent alienation and GAL issues.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay, so not just GAL but the parent alienation stuff, as well.
SENATOR FASANO: Correct.
REP. O'NEILL: And maybe I shouldn't be saying this but, I guess, a question that I have is that we -- I think you're right. Task Forces are not generally encouraged around here these days that much anymore. And potentially a vehicle for this -- and I'm going to mention it though even though maybe I shouldn't -- is the Law Revision Commission which does studies of issues like this frequently involving judges and other interested parties. Now, it's not like Program Review and Investigation that goes out and gathers lots of field research, kind of, stuff but rather just has experienced people in the field sit down at the same table to try to work something out.
Would you think this, what you're aiming at, is this more where they have to do an in-depth research to gather information or is this something that it's just a matter of trying to work out language and some, sort of, mutual understanding of what needs to be changed or done?
SENATOR FASANO: I'm not familiar with the document or the organization you're talking about. I apologize for that, but I don't know that so I can't answer that question, except to answer it this way. I think -- before you came in, what I was saying is that the Family Court system that we set up through the Legislature and all of the different experts and GALs, AMCs, and so forth, are all good intentions. But what's happening is there's very little oversight and these fees are becoming to a point that litigants are saying I can't afford this divorce, I don't care what happens, I just can't go forward anymore, I'm losing my house, I'm losing my business, I just can't do it. That's bad public policy in my view.
And what I'm suggesting is we need to get people who are subject to the bills who are sitting in Family Court to be part of this task force to say, Yes, when I'm paying 10,000 to 12,000 dollars a month for lawyers, GALs, AMCs, psychologists, psychiatrists and out-of-pocket expenditures for all of these people, the system doesn't work.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay. So I guess what I'm getting at so the idea would be that there would be some, sort of, information gathering from all of the litigants? I mean they would have a seat at the table, as well?
SENATOR FASANO: Litigants who are subject to this, the way I had proposed it -- and Representative Gonzalez had some issues with it -- but Judge Monroe, head of the Family Court system, who I talked to last night -- felt that a task force where it consisted of her and another Family Court judge, lawyers in the field of family law, some folks who felt that the system needed to be changed and the public were subject to the system -- not with an axe to grind but a problem to solve -- and whatever, some other people, would be the task force made up. So it's lawyers, judges, and litigants who come in and, sort of, say here are the issues, here are the problems. GALs would be at the tables. AMCs would be at the tables so that everybody can talk about what it is that they're trying to solve and how we can corral this.
REP. O'NEILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. G. FOX: Representative Gonzalez.
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the second time.
Senator, like you had said before that it does happen. The parents get incarcerated because they can't, you know, afford to pay but one of the other problems that -- and I would like to know how we can work this out, maybe I don't know if you know about this -- but one of the problems that these parents might have and, especially females, was that they couldn't go back to court and complain about the problems they were having with the GAL because they have a gag order. Ladies can't complain period and they were going through hell trying to pay because they couldn't pay, they were not able to see that kid.
Now, the biggest problem was going to court and complain about it because it was the gag order, that was one. And the other problem was that the guardian ad litem -- I think that the GAL and also the court -- they would appoint an agency that will do supervise visits and also that they were ripping off these people and they couldn't do anything because there was a gag order and they were not able to complain.
That's why I'm looking around and I met with a group of ten females, and I don't see none of them here because it was a gag order and they violated it. They complained about the GAL or they complained about the agencies. There were always supervised visits. They were violating some conditions, and they will put them in jail and some of these females, they were.
They did complain and they were put in jail. So I think that more than that, I think that with this bill that we can address the GAL and also the agencies that were doing supervised visits. They were charging a lot of money, and this parent they couldn't complain.
SENATOR FASANO: I agree.
REP. GONZALEZ: Okay, thanks.
REP. G. FOX: Senator Kissel.
SENATOR KISSEL: Yes, Senator Fasano. I just wanted to thank you for coming and testifying this morning. I was listening in my office and as soon as I realized whose voice it was that was speaking I ran in here. But I think that what you've stated has raised a lot of issues for myself and the other leaders on the committee. I'd like to work very closely with you to try to refine the proposal as far as a task force.
I'm familiar with the Law Revision Commission, but it seems to me that if we want some laypeople to be involved, perhaps, a standalone and so we'll just get the appointments lined up, and we have a JF deadline that's the 19th so we're going to have to just jump on this and get it done by then. But thank you for coming and testifying. From my perspective alone, I'll do whatever I can to help make sure this gets out of this committee.
SENATOR FASANO: Thank you, Senator Kissel.
REP. G. FOX: And thank you, Senator Fasano.
I just have one question, would you envision this task force also including a discussion regarding the responsibilities of GALs and attorneys for the minor children? And also I've seen situations where what's allowed in court, with respect to testimony, can differ from judge to judge in terms of how much they rely upon the GALs and the AMCs so I think that might be something also to have. If you get this group together and this is their expertise it might be something they might want to look at, as well.
SENATOR FASANO: And what's interesting, too, on that notion is that defenses of parent alienation, when raised, have had mixed reviews with various judges. Some judges allow that evidence in the divorce case so you can demonstrate that one parent has alienated the kids. And some judges say we don't recognize that in the State of Connecticut. So even that part alone should be determined what is going to be the policy and what are the judges going to do.
It's unfair if New Haven says okay and Meriden says no. There actually was issue where one judge said, yes, and then a week later said I reverse my ruling. I don't know why. I've never really seen that happen but it happened.
So I think those are the types of things that we -- that parent alienation, this task force, needs to look at. We're not the only state. New York is looking at it. California is looking at it. As we saw, Arizona is dealing with the issue because it is a very real issue and, you know, you can probably hear from some folks who say when I started this case my daughter was 6. When the case finished, my daughter is 14-years-old, 15-years-old. You can hear cases where lawyers have said, Look, by the time this case is over, she's going to be or he's going to be 18, don't spend the money on me, let it go, and when they're 18, they'll come back.
I don't think that's right policy, in my view. That's the reason why I think all that needs to be looked at.
REP. G. FOX: Yes. And I think, in addition to how they're selected and how they're appointed, and I know that steps have been taken. You referenced those by Judge Monroe and having the training. And I don't think you need to be a GAL without that training now so I think there is an effort, but if you get this group together they may as well talk about some of the other issues that fall into this.
SENATOR FASANO: I agree.
REP. G. FOX: Okay. Well, thank you very much for your testimony this morning.
SENATOR FASANO: And I thank all of you guys. Thank you. Have a good day.
REP. G. FOX: Sorry, Chairman Coleman. I'm sorry. I didn't realize you had a question.
SENATOR COLEMAN: I did want to make a comment. I don't do much family law. The one, sort of, notorious case that I have handled in Family Court started in 2005, it continues. There's a hearing actually scheduled next week. So that's going on for, what's the arithmetic, eight years. Thank you.
SENATOR FASANO: Wow.
SENATOR COLEMAN: And every single issue that you've mentioned in your testimony is one that I've encountered in this particular case, including fees, regarding jail. And I think the courts overreliance on the view of the GAL in the case. So I'm very receptive to what you're talking about and also wanted to thank you for coming in and making this presentation to the committee.
SENATOR FASANO: Thank you, Senator Coleman.
SENATOR COLEMAN: You're welcome.
REP. G. FOX: And, actually, Representative Rebimbas also has a question.
REP. REBIMBAS: Good morning, Senator Fasano. Just, again, I wanted to say thank you for bringing this to our attention. I actually do a significant amount of family work so this is a certainly a subject matter that I have a strong interest in.
The only thing, as we move forward, which certainly, even informally, we've kind of discussed the task force is sounding like a pretty good idea. For those specific cases and specific people you have spoken to, if at all, if you can encourage them to obtain copies of the transcripts so then that can be something we can work off of because I know many times, certainly, it could rightfully that it's occurred other times it could be certain decisions so we can kind of weed out. And it could also be a judge, an issue with a judge, how a judge may be improperly or not properly allowing testimony. So I'd be interested, also, in knowing the transcripts because if it's something we can identify. If it is a guardian ad litem issue or an AMC issue, then it certainly should be addressed. If it's a judge issue, it certainly should be addressed as well.
SENATOR FASANO: Thank you, Representative Rebimbas.
If I could just say this, there are people here who are coming to testify, who have cases. They're behind me, a number of them. I have asked them to do two things: One, don't use judges' names, I've asked them; I've asked them don't talk individually about your case because I don't want, to this body, to be perceived as they're coming here to cry about what happened to them individually. I want them to talk about the system and how they feel the system either helped them or failed them. But please feel free to ask them for the transcripts -- most of them are here -- but to understand how the system has failed them. I don't them if they talk about their individual case, they'll get too emotional and they'll get into the trees and lose sight of the forest, and I don't want them to turn you guys off, to be candid, so I've asked them for that, but please feel free to ask them questions.
REP. REBIMBAS: Thank you.
SENATOR FASANO: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you, Senator Fasano.
SENATOR FASANO: Thank you very much. I can get up now. Right?
REP. G. FOX: Yes, you can. Thanks. Sorry.
Next is Senator Cassano. And that's the last of the 'asanos.
Good morning, Senator.
SENATOR CASSANO: Good morning, Representative Fox, Senator Coleman, members of the committee. It's always a pleasure to come before Judiciary and today I come before you with not necessarily a pleasurable item. Back in November of 2012, we had a woman who was physically assaulted, raped -- allegedly raped, and also highly intoxicated. She was sent to the hospital, and the hospital refused to do a rape test because of her condition at the time. The police department was quite upset about this and asked if we could do something with legislation to try and correct this kind of situation because they weren't sure as to what the procedures would be.
I submitted a bill at that time, in their behalf, which -- 5085, which is now 6636.
As a result of submitting the bill, I was contacted by a group of people, basically, the committee that's dealing with this issue, the Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services. And it was an eye-opener for me. One of the problems that we have today is that, with CSI and these other types of programs that we see on TV, I assume that just a swab was necessary to try and prove what had taken place here. Well, obviously, it goes far beyond that and we did have people from the Office of Victims Services and the Connecticut Assault Sexual Crisis Center, the Permanent Commission on Women, hospital association, the judicial branch. A group they are, in fact, working to deal with this particular situation.
The Commission on the Standardization of Collection of Evidence and Sexual Assault Investigation has established a subcommittee, an evidence commission to, in fact, look at this very issue and to define it. They also have what are called "safe teams," but the problem we have is the safe teams are in only six hospitals. We do not have enough safe teams and so, hopefully, through another venue, through Appropriations, we may be able to begin the process of trying to develop additional safe teams to be able to do the same kinds of things that are being done in six other hospitals in Connecticut.
They have been meeting and, in fact, the purpose of the subcommittee meetings is to deal with this very situation that I talk about that happened in Manchester. In one way, it would be easy to say it looks like they'll be able to do this because they have -- it's actually called The Steady Connecticut Technical Guidelines for Healthcare Response for Victims of Sexual Assault. They can amend and change those guidelines, as they are, basically, the rules for this type of procedures; however, if we hold a bill we might, if necessary, if there are some tie-ups in the process or some difficulties, it could be a vehicle if any legislation is needed.
So the bill was intended -- introduced to try to deal with the topic. The committee is, in fact, dealing with the topic but if there are any legislative issues that might have to be added to that I would hate to lose a year because we just hold this particular bill. So I want to thank the committee itself because what they're doing does make a lot of sense. In the meantime, we do have people, like the woman in Manchester that are victims that will unfortunately lose their opportunity to convict somebody clearly when evidence shows a rape. And so I would ask that we pass this bill, pass this bill to keep it as a whole in case CONNSACS can't get everything together that needs to be done.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you, Senator.
Seeing none, thank you very much.
SENATOR CASSANO: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
REP. G. FOX: Next is Teresa Younger.
TERESA YOUNGER: Good morning. Good morning, Senator Coleman, Senator Kissel, Representative Fox and Representative Rebimbas. You have my written testimony in front of you on a number of bills that I'll be talking about today, and I'd like to point out that there are experts in these fields coming up to testify on any questions that I am unable to answer, which I'm sure there will be many since, as most of you know, I am not an attorney.
My name is Teresa Younger, and I am the executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. We work on women's public health, safety, economic security and the elimination of gender discrimination. Today, we are testifying with regards to three bills that are on your docket. House Bill 5666 will be the first one I'd like to comment on, AN ACT CONCERNING THE FORFEITURE OF MONEYS AND PROPERTY RELATED TO THE SEXUAL EXPLOITATION AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING.
Since 2004, the PCSW has convened the Trafficking and Person's Council to study the issue of human trafficking and make recommendations to the state Legislature. The Council has made recommendations that has resulted in the establishment of criminal penalties and civil remedies, victim-friendly curriculum for training the providers, state agencies and law enforcement, and providing for housing and public awareness and education and funding in those areas.
House Bill 5666 would actually build on and fill a loophole that was established with the Public Act 10-112, establishing a civil forfeiture procedures to seize tainted funds and property from several sexual offenses, including human trafficking. However, we feel like there was a loophole for those around prostitution and those promoting prostitution. We want to make sure that those promoting prostitution are not seeking -- making a profit off of the actions. And instead of just paying the penalty and leaving, we'd like to seize their property in the process.
We're still working on tweaking some of the language around that, but it's an incredibly important bill and it should be noted that this piece of legislation, which has been lead by your own committee member, Representative Rebimbas, has the signature of all 55 women legislators on it. So for the first time ever we have a piece of legislation that reflects that. It's a very serious piece, and we hope that you'll consider passage of that bill.
I'd also like to comment really briefly on House Bill 6636, which Senator Cassano just mentioned. The PCSW is a member of the Commission on the Standardization of the Collection of Evidence in Sexual Assault Investigations. We've been a member of this commission since its inception and have been working very closely with all of the members of that commission.
Currently, the commission is looking into matters regarding evidence collection in situations where the victim cannot provide informed consent.
A subcommittee, as you have learned, of this commission has met several times and has another meeting scheduled later this month with the goal of finalizing revisions to the guidelines around this delicate issue of consent. Therefore, the proposed bill, we actually would ask that no action be taken. We applaud the committee for your commitment for to this issue around sexual assault and we would be happy to provide you with the update from the commission if you seek so. Please just feel free to contact us.
Finally, I'd like to comment on Senate Bill 115 and House Bill 6688. Senate Bill 115 is AN ACT CONCERNING THE REVISIONS OF STATUTES RELATED TO THE DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE, LEGAL SEPARATION AND ANNULMENT. This legislation, we are actually asking you to reject. And we would actually ask that you consider the passage of House Bill 6688, which is AN ACT CONCERNING THE REVISIONS OF STATUTES RELATED TO THE AWARD OF ALIMONY. The details of both of those are in our packet.
I'd like to point out that I heard the previous conversation with regards to a task force, and I think as it was pointed out, there was a task force in 2001. There was a 68-page report that came out of that task force, and at the PCSW we're not sure we would object to another task force. We would just want to make sure that it fully addressed the issues of concern.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you for your summary of each of those bills. I appreciate -- we appreciate your testimony.
Are there any questions?
SENATOR KISSEL: Ms. Younger, great to see you again. I'm a little confused. Do you not want us to move on Senator Cassano's bill?
TERESA YOUNGER: We don't think Senator Cassano's bill needs to be moved on because we know that the Standardization Committee is working on the guidelines, and we think we'll have the guidelines resolved. We think that there's really no need for it because the guidelines will address the concerns that he's addressed in the legislation.
SENATOR KISSEL: What can be lost?
TERESA YOUNGER: There's no loss. I mean, if you pass it, that's fine. But the guidelines will address this and it doesn't need to be moved forward. We don't think it needs to go anywhere at this point.
SENATOR KISSEL: Okay. I understand that but just as a courtesy to my fellow senator maybe if we try to move it at least out of committee and if you were able to sit down with Senator Cassano --
TERESA YOUNGER: Yes. We have actually, Senator, you should note that we actually have sat down with Senator Cassano. He has invited us in to work on the bill -- to work with him on the bill. We did bring to the table the Connecticut Sexual Assault and Rape Crisis Centers to the table, as well as many other groups. So we're all on the same page. We understand what he's trying to do. We don't object to his proposal. We just are, you know, we just don't think we need to spend much more time on it considering the committee is actually working on resolving the concerns that he has.
SENATOR KISSEL: But is there a chance that this will be resolved prior to the end of session?
TERESA YOUNGER: That is the hope, yes.
SENATOR KISSEL: So if we kept this bill alive, then we may not have to pass it.
TERESA YOUNGER: Feel free to keep it alive. You just would not need to pass it on the floor.
SENATOR KISSEL: Okay. Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Representative Rebimbas.
REP. REBIMBAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you very much for your testimony here today and, also, regarding 5666 for putting such a wonderful press conference together this morning, for your hard work for bringing this to women's attention, specifically, and certainly, hopefully, we'll be supported by all of those members of the General Assembly.
I did want to touch base on 6636. You indicate that you guys are working on the guidelines. Is this something that we would then later on not have to be implemented in law and that it will, the guidelines, would just simply be followed?
TERESA YOUNGER: Yes.
REP. REBIMBAS: Okay. Thank you for your testimony. And thank you again for all of the hard work that you've done.
TERESA YOUNGER: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Are there additional questions?
REP. O'NEILL: Do you have any idea what these guidelines, I mean are they -- what they are going to consist of or what the general thrust of them is?
TERESA YOUNGER: I haven't actually been working on the subcommittee. I have a staff person that's has been working on the subcommittee, but the guidelines are incredibly comprehensive about what should happen within hospitals, what should happen within police departments with regards to this. And I know they are specifically addressing the concerns that Senator Cassano has brought up with regards to consent when it comes to collecting evidence around sexual assault.
REP. O'NEILL: Because, I mean -- and I'm not familiar with this issue beyond what I'm hearing about it right now, but if the issue is that you have someone who is incapable of giving consent, which is what I gather, this is all about someone's intoxicated or otherwise incapable, and the concept is that you need to have some sort of process to get consent from someone, my assumption is that that you'd have to do that via statute. In other words, I don't quite understand unless we've delegated some statutory authority to this commission to do this that we're going to substitute consent. In other words, so instead of getting the consent from the person, you can get it from someone else, like a hospital administrator or a parent or a relative of some kind.
In other words, I'm not sure who is going to be, if the individual is incapable of giving consent, how we get over the idea that you need consent to do these things.
TERESA YOUNGER: Right. I understand what you're saying, Representative O'Neill. I'd ask that you speak with CONNSACS. There are just some details around not just the consent component but around not re-victimizing the victim and protecting the rights of the victim in the process of getting consent. And so there may be a statutory requirement but, at this point, we really would like to have the committee address all of the issues that are on the table around this particular issue.
REP. O'NEILL: Well, presumably someone from there is going to testify.
TERESA YOUNGER: Yes, they are going to be testifying.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you.
Are there other questions? I think you've heard from my colleagues up here that the question is more, I think, everybody wants to do the right thing. At the same time, you mentioned that there's privacy concerns of the victim, re-victimizing the victim, and that would be my assumption as to why it's not being done now because there's things that prohibit that. And if this subcommittee is getting it together, they may require statutory language or a change to our laws. And if they do that, I think what Senator Kissel is getting at is our deadline to vote bills out is in two weeks, so it may make sense to keep this alive that way you'd have the rest of April, the month of May, to get back to us and then if we need to do something, at least, we have something that we can utilize to do that. We can substitute the language at that point.
So, I think, that's kind of the consensus up here. It seems to be what we're talking about.
TERESA YOUNGER: And that's totally fine.
REP. G. FOX: Okay. Well, thank you very much for your testimony.
TERESA YOUNGER: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Next is Representative Diana Urban
A VOICE: Mr. Chairman, she had to leave for a press conference and asked me to let you know she'll be back as soon as it's over.
REP. G. FOX: Okay, thank you. Then we have the State Child Advocate Jamey Bell.
JAMEY BELL: Good morning. Good morning, Representative Fox, Senator Kissel, Representative Rebimbas and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee. I'm Jamey Bell. I'm the state child advocate, and I'm here to testify in support of Raised Bill 6682, AN ACT CONCERNING COLLABORATION BETWEEN BOARDS OF EDUCATION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL.
The mandate of the Office of the Child Advocate includes evaluating the delivery of state-funded services to children and advocating for policies and practices that promote their well-being and protect their special rights. But all of the work that we do, including responding to individual calls for assistance and information and individual and systemic advocacy, seeks to improve the public systems that serve children to promote developmentally appropriate responses to children's behavior and ensure opportunity for all children to be nurtured, treated fairly and to grow up educated, healthy and supported by caring adults.
The first part of my testimony goes into some of the project that we do with regard to that but, essentially, a large part of our individual and systemic advocacy is on behalf of the children youth and young adults who have, for various reasons, fallen off of the track that we want all children and youth and young adults to stay on for their current well-being and their futures. I've provided some examples there of work that we do in that, but the population that we concentrate on would be affected by this bill because, essentially, the requirements in HB 6682 should be one of the tools in our toolbox to keep children on the track that we want them to be on. The requirements seek to address one of the very significant upstream contributors to juvenile justice involvement and the resulting potentially lifelong consequences and that is the high incidents of arrests in schools.
Arrests in schools occur much more frequently than people realize. They are a full one in five referrals to Juvenile Court statewide. So national data suggests that the presence of police in schools coincides with increasing arrests of students and a majority of which are for minor infractions. The data from Connecticut supports this as well and suggests that students are being arrested for discretionary reasons, and very few arrests result from serious things, such as weapons possession. Specifically, over one in ten arrests result from school policy violations, such as profanity, skipping class or detention, disrespect or disruptive behavior.
Raised Bill 6682 can help address these problems to the extent that positioning police in schools leads to unintended consequences. Many schools have police stationed in them without any formal guidelines governing the daily interactions. Rather than promoting safety in schools, police presence can lead, not always, but can lead to unnecessary criminalization of students.
So students and police need guidance and agreement on how to manage the day-to-day operations if there are going to be police or school resource officers in the school. The bill promotes and facilitates collaboration and communication between schools and police by requiring the creation of formal written memorandums of agreement and/or policies detailing the roles and responsibilities of police stationed in schools. There are these such memorandum agreements in at least six Connecticut towns and they're listed on page 3 of my testimony, and they have resulted in truly significant reductions in arrests and then subsequent referrals to the Juvenile Justice system.
Because of these new partnerships and relationships, police and administrators in these towns, alike, are more sensitive to using arrests as a last resort and are more aware of the other options that are available. Essentially, it helps to keep children on track, in school, and out of the pipeline that leads to juvenile justice involvement, something that, eventually, all of the negative consequences that can occur for children.
Secondly, the Office of the Child's Advocate supports the second section of Raised Bill HB 6682 because it would provide communities and policymakers with more accurate, timely information about the number of school-based arrests in each school, including the demographics of the students who were arrested. Various reports show that one of the concerns with the lack of uniformity and standards and clarity around police presence in schools is that it may contribute to the racial and ethnic and income disparities and disproportionality in the juvenile justice and then, eventually, the adult criminal justice systems.
We know that school districts clearly need ways to respond to students' problematic and disruptive behaviors yet these efforts need not come at the price of pushing more children into the juvenile justice or criminal justice system, which would then exacerbate educational inequality. Accurate, regular timely information is crucial to being able to monitor these trends and, essentially, keep kids on track in schools and not falling into what's known as the school-to-prison pipeline.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony, and I just want to say that our office works in this area in conjunction with the Juvenile Justice Alliance, who is also going to present testimony to you later, so any very, very deep-end questions about the details of efforts already under way in the districts that I mention could probably better answered by them, but I would try if you address them to me, as well. Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you very much.
REP. REBIMBAS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you for your testimony. I was quickly trying to see who submitted testimony regarding this bill and, unfortunately, I don't, unless I'm missing it, I don't see the State Department of Education. Have you had a conversation with the State Department of Education regarding this issue?
JAMEY BELL: You know, I have not, Representative Rebimbas but I don't know-- I have not specifically, personally, I don't know what the Juvenile Justice Alliance or the Center for Children's Advocacy or the Connecticut Voices for Children, which are our partners in this have. But they are testifying this afternoon on this same bill, and they will be able to answer that. Address that question to them.
REP. REBIMBAS: Okay. And do you know, specifically, which school districts are having issues regarding this?
JAMEY BELL: Issues with regarding the bill or --
REP. REBIMBAS: Regarding the absence of having some type of uniform policy where there is an officer in the school?
JAMEY BELL: No, I don't. I mean I know that there are only a few that have specific memorandums of understanding around it, and they are having very good effects. Most don't so I couldn't tell you any specific ones that are having problems with it. I don't know that it's necessarily risen to the level of school districts having an awareness that it's a problem. It's more advocates concerned with children, particularly low-income children and children of color, being disproportionately arrested in schools and the negative consequences that they can slide into because of that. I don't know that it's a problem that the school districts themselves have identified as much as advocates for children and youth and young adults have.
REP. REBIMBAS: I want to thank you for your testimony because I think the information you provided is very informative and it brings us a certain awareness to it. I'm going to reserve any opinion regarding how to move forward and how to properly address it as I will be hearing from others regarding this topic. But it would seem to me to know, it certainly seems like a good policy to have. It would be one that maybe would be shared by the State Department of Education which then they can certainly then share those policies and guidelines, probably make it uniform and make suggestions then to the appropriate school districts that have, certainly, an officer there that may then have issues, as you've confirmed during your testimony, you're not aware of anyone specifically. I just, again, hesitate having to put stuff in statute, making things mandatory, if the school districts themselves would possibly adopt this as kind of a common-sense approach.
Certainly, again, with the Department of Education's input and guidance in that regard but, like I said, I'll certainly reserve any formal opinion or final opinion as we hear testimony moving forward but thank you for taking the time to bring this to our attention.
JAMEY BELL: Thank you, Representative Rebimbas. May I just say two things in response to that, which is that the law does not state anything that the policies have to say. It simply requires that there be a memorandum of understanding between the school and the police so that all of the parties can have hashed out what they really want that police presence to be about in their schools. What is the purpose of them being there and how will they respond to the various range of behaviors that come up that may or may not warrant police response but maybe in conjunction with the partnership result in things that are positive behavioral interventions and things like that. So this doesn't specify what the memorandum has to say only that there needs to be an agreement in collaboration about what the police presence will be about.
And the second thing I just wanted to say is that, with regard to the school districts that have agreements already, my understanding is that they are working closely and in conjunction with the Juvenile Justice Alliance and other advocates to figure out how that would work and what that should be about and there is already a template that the Juvenile Justice Alliance has developed and has used in many of these school districts that could be available to all school districts should they want to use it but also should the state Department of Education want to engage in a statewide conversation or suggestions about what the parameters should be of any memorandum of understanding.
REP. REBIMBAS: I certainly thank you for the clarification. I was aware that the bill before isn't stating what has to be there, and again, I think you touched upon it at the very end. It seems like it would make better sense if there was a template out there that it should come from top down. Department of Education should be involved with it as kind of a guidelines because then each district, I'm sure, has a different police officer there for different purposes. Different school systems have different behavioral issues and things of that nature so then they could tweak it personally. But again, thank you for your testimony.
JAMEY BELL: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you, Representative Baram and then Representative Smith.
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for your testimony. I very much like this kind of stuff and just to share with you: back in the eighties when I was mayor of Bloomfield, we had some issues regarding residency matters. And it was interesting to see how some towns elected to refer children who were attending their schools that purportedly lived outside the districts to a civil process of residency officer hearing and others elected to have the police come in and make arrests. Is this something that would be covered, in your opinion, by such a memorandum of understanding to determine what kinds of matters would be handled civilly versus criminally?
JAMEY BELL: Very much so, Representative Baram. I think that's the exact point. What does the school want the police presence to accomplish? There's such a wide range of things that it could be but clarity and accountability and transparency about that can only help everyone. It can, certainly, help the community understand why the purpose of the police presence but also to have faith and confidence that their students -- the purpose of their students being in school is to try and keep them engaged in school and all of the good things that come out of that versus increasing disengagement from students who are already probably, you know, acting up and might be acting like jerks. We know that they do. And instead of criminalizing the whole range of behavior that children can engage in school when they're disengaged, or when they're struggling, or when they're -- for whatever reason not acting appropriately according to the norms of the school, that there is not a disproportionate response to that and that their response is always about keeping them engaged in school and responding to their behaviors in a way that will maximize their engagement and not their disengagement.
REP. BARAM: I think it's a great concept and, at the very least, it forces people to talk to one another and try and come up with some protocols for handling these kinds of issues. Thank you.
JAMEY BELL: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Representative Smith.
REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And good morning.
JAMEY BELL: Good morning.
REP. SMITH: Any idea how many arrests have been made in Connecticut in our schools over the past year or couple years?
JAMEY BELL: You know, I have a pile of the reports of our partners here before me, Representative Smith. I'd have to dig through them and find it, and I know that witnesses who are going to come up after me who will probably be able to tell you off of the top of their heads what that is. I apologize for that.
REP. SMITH: No, that's fine. I'm sure the information is up there and we can -- or you can having it right now.
JAMEY BELL: Or Abby Anderson, who is the executive director of the Juvenile Justice Alliance, who is going to testify not that far after me gives me a report which, actually, I think, I'm not going to be able to read quickly enough to give you.
REP. SMITH: That's okay. I'm sure I'm going to get the answer at some point during the morning.
JAMEY BELL: Thank you.
REP. SMITH: You know, I'm very much in favor of police discretion, whether it's in schools or outside of schools. I think, sometimes I've seen police where they've exercised great discretion and handled the situation so nicely and avoided someone having to have to go through the court system. And once they're in the court system, as we all know, it just becomes a different world for a lot of people and sometimes causes a path that they continue to go on where they could have otherwise been kept out of it. Especially, to our younger people who are in school, so I'm very much in favor of discretion and trying not to make an arrest unless an arrest is necessary.
I am concerned though, based on what I heard this morning from you, about just the -- what I feel is another mandate to our towns and cities and our boards of education to create a document that very much can be very hollow, it can be very detailed, it can be whatever. And I echo the comments made by our ranking member, Representative Rebimbas, to the extent that I think there has to be some collaboration with the State Board of Education. I think it really should come top down. If the State is concerned about this if this is a state policy that we're interested in there should be some kind of guidance. Some type of document they can look to and pull from within because, as we know, every town is a little bit different. Some cities have different issues, as perhaps, some of the towns I represent so I don't think one shoe fits all but I do think that there should be a template that the State can create, and I understand that there are some out there already from different towns, but it should be statewide.
So I hope that we hear some testimony today that the State is already working on this, that this will not be another unfunded mandate to the towns and boards of ed who are already overburdened with regulations and documents that they have to prepare each year for another school district, another school year. And I'm concerned right now -- I mean if this were to become law, I thought I heard you say there's basically no criterion whatsoever that would have to go into a memorandum of understanding. So, for instance, under this language if the Town of New Fairfield wanted to just have an understanding with the local police that, Listen, we'd like to have you here use your discretion and good luck.
Sounds pretty awful. Probably wouldn't happen but since there's no requirements to do anything more than that, the language seems hollow to me so I hope we can work on something a little bit better, a little stronger so that we define what type of discretion we'd like to see for our police and our students to keep them out of the system.
JAMEY BELL: Representative Smith, I agree with you as a lifelong policy advocate for children. I think it's always better to have -- certainly, have leadership form the top and leadership from the State Department of Education on these matters and that a statewide discussion on these matters and what we want our schools to be doing for our children with regards to responding to their behavior and maximizing, as I said, engagement and minimizing disengagement which is really optimal. I agree with you that that would be the optimal state.
I think that part of what the reason for advocates bringing this to the attention of policymakers is that we want to encourage that discussion on a statewide policy-setting basis and that this was the example set by the school districts that have embraced this with something that we thought it would be a good idea to publicize and to make part of the statewide policy-setting discussion because the successes have been so remarkable and significant and without impeding the school's autonomy and the role that they want police to play within their schools but I agree with you.
REP. SMITH: And just stepping back a second about the discretion aspect of it. I was thinking as you were speaking, there's so many times and, especially, when I went to school way back when and where, you know, they used to say, Boys will be boys, sometimes. And, today, girls will be girls as well, but it's just fights that happen; they break out. You know, they can be violent but they can also be something that can be handled within school. It doesn't mean that someone who just got in a fight has to be drawn into the -- has to be arrested for an assault, brought into the system. It should be able handled appropriately and there are some time when a fight is more than a fight and it has to be dealt with appropriately. So that's the type of discretion I hope we see and somehow get into some kind of policy but thank you for coming this morning and answering my question.
JAMEY BELL: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Representative O'Neill.
REP. O'NEILL: I'm curious about the answer you gave to Representative Rebimbas about the involvement of the State Department of Education on this matter. Did you reach out to them?
JAMEY BELL: As I said, Representative O'Neill, I did not specifically. The Office of the Child Advocacy works on this issue through our membership in the Juvenile Justice Alliance so it's very possible that they did and that they have engaged in discussions with the State Department of Education on this, but I don't know the details of that. I apologize.
REP. O'NEILL: But you've never seen or heard the Department of Education being involved in this matter, it sounds like?
JAMEY BELL: I have not but that doesn't mean that they have not because I have not, as I said, I am a member and a representative within the Juvenile Justice Alliance, but they are our leader on it.
REP. O'NEILL: What is the Juvenile Justice Alliance exactly?
JAMEY BELL: The Juvenile Justice Alliance is going to testify, as I said, Abby Anderson --
REP. O'NEILL: Now is that a state agency or is that --
JAMEY BELL: No. It's a collective of, generally, nonprofit organizations and the state is a part of it, as well, the State court services, Court Division, DCF. SBDE may have membership on it, I'm not sure, that advocates for policy improvements and good treatment of children within the juvenile justice system and prior to the juvenile justice system involvement and within the system itself. It's a collective of nonprofit advocates and juvenile justice.
REP. O'NEILL: Because it just seems so -- I think you can tell, to a lot of us, it just seems so obvious that an entity that ought to be directly involved in the formulation of policy in this area ought to be the Department of Education and this isn't -- if they're not interested in this, then I'm kind of puzzled as to what they are doing. Because I'm looking at the list of testimonies on this bill, the Children's Law and Policy, et cetera, I guess, the ACLU, the Connecticut Association of Foster/Adoptive Parents, Center for Children's Law and Policy. There are a couple of police chiefs, CCM, legal services, Connecticut Voices for Children, Public Defenders Services, the executive director of the Office and Protection of Advocacy for People with Disabilities -- Persons with Disabilities I mean, the list goes on. It's like a whole page on my computer: African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities, I mean just about everybody that has anything to do with children seems to be on the list here to testify. And the Department of Education doesn't seem to be involved and this is -- the State Boards of Education, they are the entity at the state level that's supposed to be, in effect, working with them and for them and that sort of thing.
I have a couple of concerns, I guess, on this bill that are actually contradictory. On the one hand, I think that we should leave as much as possible to local discretion. I'm always basically supportive of the idea that one size doesn't fit all. On the other hand, the relationship between the police and the State Board of Education or the school system should be that's relatively easy to define. Because I remember this bill from last year and my recollection from last year is that people were working on memorandums of understanding and, I noticed in the testimony of one of the police chiefs, they just finished the memo in October. Now, I don't know how long they worked on it, but I may have heard there was a discussion about guardians ad item and how much they charge, how much lawyers get paid and my assumption is that if that it was a lawyer working for the local board of education and another lawyer working for the police department and they spent two years hammering out this, it might costs $20,000. That's what CCM's complaint is going to be about this is how much it's going to cost, to work out 150 of these agreements across the state of Connecticut, lawyers charging 250 or 300 dollars an hour to write something which there ought to be a maybe five-page document that we could all just replace the name of one town and one school district with another pretty much. I mean I can understand that there might need to be an extra word here, a sentence there to accommodate some special concerns people might have, but it just seems like we're asking them to do something that's, sort of, obvious but also could conceivably be time consuming.
I'm going to ask -- hopefully, I'm going to be here when the police chiefs show up or somebody else on behalf of the school district how much these things cost to create. But, so, on the one hand, I think they should have some discretion; but on the other hand not if it's going to cost them so much money that they're going to have to lay off a teacher to pay for the cost of this thing.
JAMEY BELL: Representative O'Neill, I think that just -- and I think that the Manchester Board of Education is one of the persons who is going to testify in favor of support of 6682 so that would be a question that that person would probably have some insight for you on. I agree with you that uniformity and leadership from the State Department of Education and a template that could be reasonably agreed upon and encouraged to be adopted by all school districts would be the way to go. That often -- just I know from my own -- not necessarily now -- my own time with Connecticut Voices for Children where we did similar advocacy is that it was sometimes difficult to get the leadership of the state agencies to agree on a policy position that they then want the rest of the state to embrace, particularly, with regard to school district policies. It was always something that we thought makes us and we advocated for, but it was met with resistance often.
REP. O'NEILL: One more thing, you mentioned in your testimony something about the impact. I assume some of the school districts that have resource officers are, essentially, what I would call affluent school districts, affluent school districts; and, obviously, others, like Hartford and Bridgeport, are not. Does the same problem arise in the more affluent school districts, based on your experience, or is it something that's really a problem of the less affluent school districts.
In other words, does the presence of a police officer incline even, let's say, in a wealthy Fairfield County town for it to suddenly everybody starts referring every disciplinary issue to the police officer, or is that something that kind of tends to happen much more in the inner-city environment?
JAMEY BELL: All I can tell you, Representative O'Neill, is the data reporting and analysis is on page 4 of my testimony, which is that there appear to be income disparities -- income-based disparities in the rates of arrests so that would -- to the extent that a town is has a profile as a more -- as a wealthier town that would play out there. Yes, there is more arrests within, by -- in school, in the poorer towns. And then, secondly, as I said, there is pretty significant racial and ethnic disparity and disproportionality in the rates of arrests, school-based arrests within different towns in the State of Connecticut.
REP. O'NEILL: Well, I'm not clear if that's in a town where, let's say, you have wealthy people and poor people, and if they're all in one school district. Is it that they're getting -- Is the police officer getting directed to arrest poor people or black people or Hispanic people versus the white kids that are in the school district?
JAMEY BELL: I don't know, Representative O'Neill --
REP. O'NEILL: -- or is it differences between two different school districts?
JAMEY BELL: Definitely differences within school districts. I don't know the answer to your question, but I -- and I'm not sure, actually frankly, that the data would allow us to -- the specific question that you asked in regards to a town that had both, wealthier children and lower-income children, whether the data would allow you to differentiate whether there was a disparity within that one town between those two populations. I don't know that the data would let you -- the data that's publically available would let you make that determination. I don't think that it would but somebody could. Somebody, possibly, Sarah Esty, who's going to testify or Abby Anderson, who's going to testify after me, may be able to answer that question more specifically with regards to how clear the data is and how much information can be gotten from the data that's available. I don't know the answer to the question.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there other members with questions?
REP. HOVEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning. I -- as you can hear from some of the questions there is a fair amount of concern about the fact that this bill is here before us in Judiciary when there's a perception and I think it's accurate that this bill may have been better served to be in Education and that the State Department of Education definitely needs to be a part of the conversation. And from my perspective, also, DCF should be a part of that conversation, too, because we've recently spent a lot of time discussing mental health issues in schools and what we have come to realize is that we have silos and DCF is the overseer of the children who are of school age also. But the other thing that we've also -- or at least I've come to believe is that we have a significant lack of services for behavioral health needs here in the State of Connecticut and, most specifically, for those children between the ages of 9 and 20.
And that we only have 453 slots for the treatment programs so might it be, I hypothesize to say, that the teachers that are trying to provide educational services, who are overwhelmed by the behavioral issues within the context of their classrooms, then kind of really reached their last straw. And I heard you say it's for swearing and this and that, well, you know, you might swear today and it wouldn't really bother me, but if I had ten people swearing at me today, the eleventh person I might want to speak with a police officer about that kind of thing so it may have to do with kind of the teacher's limits of being able to handle one more thing and then it gets referred to that officer.
So I had been at one point the Governor's appointee to the federal Juvenile Justice Advisory Council and found that we have juveniles across the country that may end up in a system that they don't necessarily need to be in, but it's because for lacking any other system to manage their behavioral health. And so I know that this is my little soapbox, and I thank the Chairman for indulging me, but I encourage you to put together a collaboration of the entities and then to come back with legislation that might have a positive impact on the significant issue here in the State of Connecticut.
JAMEY BELL: Thank you, Representative Hovey. I agree with you that the mental health and the response of the mental health system within schools plays a very significant role in this, as well, and we and all of the other child advocates across this state do work on that, but it's very hard to not work on them in isolation and in silos, although we try very hard to bring them together and to bring everyone to the table because to the extent that these kinds of behaviors are reflecting on mental health needs or unmet special education needs, then they certainly will be better served in the mental health system or the special ed system than in the juvenile justice or criminal justice system.
REP. HOVEY: Thank you, and what I would say to you is that we've had massive outcries in the last few months, and I think that it's unfortunate that those masses of people weren't here to push this very agenda around behavioral health for our young people in our state so I would encourage you to go out and rabble-rouse because this truly gets to the heart of our issues within the society.
JAMEY BELL: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Do any other members have questions or comments to make?
If not, thank you, Attorney Bell.
JAMEY BELL: Thank you, Senator Coleman.
SENATOR COLEMAN: It appears as if we've reached the end of the first hour and so the committee will begin to alternate between the state officials list and the public's list.
First, on the public's list is Daniel Swoverland to be followed by Representative Diana Urban.
DANIEL SWOVERLAND: Good morning.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Good morning, sir.
DANIEL SWOVERLAND: My name is Daniel Swoverland. I'm a father and a former corrections officer. My precious child is a 13-year-old girl. She has not been able to speak to her father in almost six years. I was an involved and exceptional parent who raised for her single-handedly for most of her life. On May 14, 2007, I experienced a serious mental health issue which was brought on by a combination of prescribed medications, including prednisone. I experienced some suicidal ideations, though, I never acted on these emotions. The extent of my expressing my pain then was through a written journal and a text message. At that time, I had primary custody of my beautiful child, and I was excelling as a parent.
Some of the details there was criminal charges filed as there was concern that I was going to try to harm myself and my child. Of course, charges were filed after the fact and my child had already been found unharmed and in my care, seat belted in the back of my car. She was never harmed, nor was there any attempt to harm anyone. There was never a history or any previous issues of abuse with my child while she was in my care. My ex-wife who was angered over previous custody issues in her inability to secure any type of control in her life or pulled my daughter away from my love, used this incident to her advantage while I was undergoing a mental health evaluations.
In summary, I was diagnosed that I have no mental health issues and numerous professionals deemed I simply had a reaction to the multitude of mediations, including steroids that were prescribed to me. As charges were abruptly filed, only after the fact of the alleged incident, I followed all of the rules of the criminal court imposed while seeking every opportunity to be with my child, a child that only ever wanted to be with her daddy.
My ex-wife, under the cover of the New Britain criminal court system continued to play cat and mouse between the criminal court system and the Family Court system. There was no communication between the two systems, none.
My ex-wife would tell the Family Court in Hartford that I was a great parent and that she'd follow whatever orders they put in place regarding visitation, and then she'd turn around and tell the criminal court in New Britain that I was psychotic and she was afraid and that she needed a protective order. This was just one example of her dishonesty and how she worked the system to her advantage while alienating me as a parent.
The prosecutor, Brian Preleski, prosecuted my case to the fullest extent possible, and this was co-signed by Judge Joan Alexander. Attorney Brian Preleski should have evaluated facts reasonably and for the betterment of my child and her life. Instead, he played parental politics and ignored every fact presented to him, including the fact that my daughter was physically and sexually abused while in her mother's care. My ex-wife was far from the ideal parent.
The prosecution made a conscious decision to prosecute a case for the benefit of his own professional record. He was told by the court-appointed psychologist that what he was doing was wrong and, in fact, putting me in jail would be a crime against my child. He ignored those words and those of numerous other mental health professionals. He chose to listen to half-truths and fabricated stories of a scorned ex-wife over the voices of reason and the numerous healthcare providers including the very forensic psychiatrist that he had agreed should evaluate me.
The Family Court then ordered that I should have visitation with my daughter at a supervised facility at the minimum and began to regain my custody and repair the relationship that had been damaged for over a year and a half. Amy Horowitz was appointed the GAL in the Family Court. In those hearings, she protested against visitation for reasons that are still unknown.
To her failure, Judge Herbert Barall sided with the numerous mental health professionals and agreed that my daughter, indeed, needs to see her father. Amy Horowitz did not represent the Family Court's orders nor did she try to advocate my daughter in any fashion. In fact, Amy advocated for my wife to have the protective order kept in place which completely opposed the Family Court and its standing orders, the same court in which she was appointed from.
My situation is complex. I do not believe that I am without some fault and have accepted responsibility for the things that I have done wrong. I paid a heavy toll including my loss of a career eight years in the State Department of Corrections, and I was sentenced to prison, along with probation. I had no criminal history nor harm or attempted to harm anybody. Yet, it appears that people in positions of power didn't accept the same responsibility for what they were doing wrong.
We cannot allow our courts, our GALs, or anyone in decision making positions to continue making decisions for our children that are for their personal gain and their financial gain and that are not in the best interests of the child. We cannot allow scorned spouses to make wild accusations in court that are untrue when the accusations have an effect on the child's future. Finally, we cannot allow individuals in a position of power to act recklessly without any sense of urgency, irresponsibly, without compassion and empathy or outside the scope of any normalcy for our children.
It would also serve parents and children well if the different courts would actually communicate with one another. I hope the tragedy that occurred in my relationship with my daughter never has to occur for any family. Today is five years, ten months and 29 days since I've spoken to, held, talked over the phone, tucked into bed or even been able to write a letter to my princess. My parental rights have basically been terminated. I've gotten remarried and I've raised an exceptional 11-year-old boy over three years without a single issue, yet, if I ask to see my daughter I'm threatened in the New Britain Court with an additional prosecution if I violate a protective order that should have never been put in place.
I, also, feel prosecution and retribution for sharing my story today. I've been pushed to places that no parent should be pushed to, yet, I have not broken. Attorneys like Brian Preleski should not be allowed to play schoolyard bully in the court room at the expense of our children. I did nothing to warrant the reaction of that court system, and my daughter has done nothing wrong at all. Yet, we both continue to be punished for almost six years. I have done everything asked of me by the court.
What happened to me, to us, could happen to anybody. This is a tragedy for a beautiful little girl that should never be repeated. I beg of you today to investigate court records if there's any question as to the integrity of what I say to you today. We need change in our system. The system should work as hard as keeping families together as they worked in my case at ripping mine apart. I hope you have the courage to pass this bill today, to make the changes needed to our court system.
In addition, Judge Barall and the Family Court have ordered and forbid my ex-wife to leave the state with my daughter. Amy Horowitz co-signed in front of another judge the legal kidnapping of my daughter and she's been removed from the state. I hope you have the courage, again, to pass this bill today. We need to make changes in our court system. I'm a taxpayer, I'm a voter and I'm a father. I'm asking for your help. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Swoverland.
Are there questions for the gentleman? Representative Smith.
REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you for sharing your story today, sir. I assume you're in favor of Bill 6685. I didn't really hear which bill number it was.
DANIEL SWOVERLAND: Yes, the parental alienation bill.
REP. SMITH: Thank you.
DANIEL SWOVERLAND: You're welcome, sir.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there any other questions?
Thank you, sir.
DANIEL SWOVERLAND: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Representative Urban followed by Andrea Cota.
REP. URBAN: Good morning. It's good to be with you. I'm here testifying on House Bill 6690, AN ACT CONCERNING COURT PROCEEDINGS AND THE PROTECTION OF ANIMALS.
You have my testimony, but I would also point out to you that when you go to the testimony on your Judiciary's web site, you will see that there are over a 100 letters in support of this from ordinary citizens who are concerned about the link between animal cruelty and future violent behavior. Out of respect for your committee, I have asked only four people to testify today, not over a hundred, because I think you'll probably be getting the message from the testimony and, unfortunately, Professor Jessica Rubin had to leave because she had a class. She is a professor of law at -- in the law school at UConn and that I will explain to you why she was here in just a -- in just a second.
But what this bill does is it recognizes the fact that 80 percent of school shooters started with animal cruelty. We know, since 1971, when the FBI recognized that animal cruelty is an indicator of future violent behavior and started using it in profiling, specifically, in mass murderers. And from there, this link has been looked at by psychologists, psychiatrists, law enforcement, and it's now part of the mainstream -- mainstream education.
I would like to remind you that this proclivity not to take animal cruelty seriously in our courts -- and by that I mean over nine years, we've only seen 42 cases of malicious animal cruelty brought under the more serious statute. When I became a legislator in 2000, I asked for the animal cruelty convictions going back 10 years. I was told they would -- didn't have them because we purge them, so they were purged, no record whatsoever. You will see that we now have records because I requested that we archive them, so now we do have records of -- of what's happened.
Unfortunately, almost always, these cases are nolle'd or they are an AR, accelerated rehabilitation. In both cases, there is no record going forward so if this person does this again or if the person moves on to a child or a domestic partner or to a school shooting, there is no way for us to -- to know it.
I would just remind you briefly that Kip Kinkel started by putting firecrackers in the mouths of cats and blowing them up. After that he killed both his parents. He went to Thurston high school and killed two people and wounded 24 others. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold bragged to schoolmates about mutilating animals before going to Columbine and killing 12 students, one teacher, and injuring an additional 21 students.
If you want to spend a chilling evening, like I did last evening and rereading these, and saying to yourself we could have possibly caught this if we had paid attention to the fact that putting a firecracker in cats' mouths and watching them blow up or mutilating animals is a indicator, it is a red flag. So this bill -- what this bill does is it puts an animal advocate in the court to be sure that the egregious nature of the animal's injuries are brought to the court's attention and that that link between animal cruelty and future violent behavior is thoroughly discussed and examined.
I have records, which you will see in my testimony, where you will see that there is so many cases where it's not taken seriously. We have one in New Haven right now, Desmond, was adopted from the New Haven Animal Shelter, Desmond was beaten, he was hanged, he was put into a closet. And Alex, the guy who adopted him, also had problems with his girlfriend, trying to strangle her. This case is in court right now, and we strongly suspect that he will get AR.
And I attached the other testimony for you there so you will see.
And I would just in -- in closing, tell you, this bill has been the work of a lot of people, Professor Jessica Rubin, Judiciary has helped me, and we have put together a bill where the animal advocates will almost always be law students and, specifically, we had talked with the Dean of UConn Law School. I recall my son who went to school in DC. They had DC law students in court. Well, now we'll have UConn law students in court, and we'll, obviously, be asking Yale and Quinnipiac. I've already had law firms step up and offer their services pro bono, specifically, Price and Green in New Haven were the first ones to call me.
We are going to offer you substitute language, which will only focus on animal cruelty. To be looking at domestic issues here, we don't think is appropriate. This is an animal cruelty issue, and it's specifically about what is that person capable of doing next and can we get them into a program -- maybe they need some jail time, too -- but in that program so that they will get the help that they need.
The only other part of this so that you might not -- might want to know is Department of Agriculture is totally on board. They have been (inaudible) to step up. So I am -- I'm very -- I feel very positive that we formed a great public-private partnership, no fiscal note. And just maybe, just maybe, we can catch some of these violent acts before they happen. And I'm sure we'd all appreciate that. Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Do we have questions for Representative Urban?
Representative Baram and then Representative Smith.
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Representative Urban, for coming and for your passion in pursuing this very important piece of legislation.
I have two questions. The first is you mentioned the Department of Agriculture, and I'm just wondering exactly how supportive are they, and do they believe that they can create this list of, essentially, volunteers the way the statutes written to be these advocates for the best interests of the animals?
REP. URBAN: Well, thank you for that question, Representative Baram. Department of Ag has been amazing. They were like, of course, they don't see a problem. It's merely keeping a list. UConn Law School and Professor Rubin, who I said would have been here to talk to you but she had a class and we got a little behind here -- we had a press conference so I was in and out -- and, of course, if Quinnipiac and Yale would like to participate. We've gone over it and we don't -- if there are -- nobody seems to think that's it's a -- it's a big lift to get that done. And, again, I would have to say that it's everybody coming to the table in what we would call a positive-sum game, everybody wins and, you know, that's not too often around here where we manage to get a positive-sum game.
REP. BARAM: Thank you. My last question, at the end of your testimony, you suggested you might be introducing substitute language to focus on animal cruelty. Would that still be applicable to both civil and criminal sessions of the court, or are you focusing now just on the criminal side?
REP. URBAN: Thank you, again, that's another great question, the criminal. Where in -- and when you look at the civil side, that's not where we're trying to get at and the language -- you know, how language sort of evolves and all of a sudden you're like whoa, whoa, whoa. We are focused on the fact that if you stab a dog 29 times because you're mad at your girlfriend, if you take a puppy and you torture it over the phone so your girlfriend can hear it, that's what we're talking about. That is the clear, clear red flag that something else is bound to happen, not in every case, but the link is very, very well researched, and it's mainstream at this point.
REP. BARAM: Well, thank you very much for that, and I certainly understand the emphasis on the criminal side. Although I would suggest maybe, in the future, taking a look at the civil side because I think there are a lot of instances where, perhaps, the care of an animal is falling short of being criminal but still is harmful and there may be a role for the court in changing custody of the animal and, particularly, with the advent of these animal trusts, I suspect that in the future as they're more widely used that might be a source of litigation, as well. But thank you very much.
REP. URBAN: Representative Baram, I will definitely work on that with you, and I would be thrilled to continue this forward, piece by piece, you know, so that we can get it well tested. Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Representative Smith.
REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, Representative. You provide compelling testimony today and, you know, it was enlightening for me to hear the relationships between -- I guess it shouldn't be surprising but never really thought about it and knew about it the fact that when you see or hear of someone doing violence to an animal that it evolves then to other humans so. I'm interested in reading the testimony you provided along those lines. I was looking at the bill, and I'm just -- I'm -- I have some questions in my mind about the ability of, say, law students as -- or mentioned as potential people who can be advocates on behalf of the animals, not that they certainly don't have the knowledge, but it -- it's -- the bill talks about the advocate performing an independent investigation and, perhaps, being in court testifying to the judge about what he or she found. And when I read this, initially, or what I thought I was going to read, because I haven't read it until you started talking, I thought maybe we'd see experts in this field as the people -- type of people that normally would testify on behalf of anyone, you know, whether there's, you know, child abuse or something along those lines. And I guess you don't have to be an expert to realize there's abuse of an animal, but I'm just concerned that maybe they won't -- the law students will not be given the, perhaps, the respect or the credibility that they might -- you might get from someone else who's a little bit more experienced. Are there any other states that are doing this now and has there been any types of problem with that?
REP. URBAN: Let me, first of all, Rhode Island did this bill, only theirs isn't as good as ours. Hi, Rhode Island. They passed it in the House 67 for, 2 against; in the Senate, 34 for and 1 against. They didn't take the step that we did in dealing with UConn, and sitting with Professor Rubin and, actually, the reason that I went this way, Representative Smith, is my son was a law student in DC, as was Representative Lawlor, not at the same time as my son, and they do something in DC called DC Law Students in Court, and the kids go in and they -- actually, the second-year law students represent in cases of landlord problems, all kinds of things, and they're pretty much let on their own, I mean, I was with -- Lex, is my son. In our case, having known what Lex did in DC, our law professors will be actively supervising this. This would be part of their, you know, their -- it's like a -- it's like an additional, cool thing that UConn will be offering, and we're pretty sure Yale and Quinnipiac is going to want to, but they will -- they will be supervised. And as I said, I had seen -- and you could talk, unfortunately, you know, -- or not unfortunately -- but Mike Lawlor has now moved on, but had he been here, he could talk to you about his experiences with DC Law Students in Court, which is, in essence, probably even more challenging than this, Representative, because they were doing, as I said, they were doing some pretty intense, intense things there.
The research on this is pretty clear, and it's not hard to become conversant with it. And, you know, if the law students get a little nervous, well, you know, that's how you learn, and, you know, I'm not -- I'm not adverse in -- I'm hoping that the committee's not adverse to it, and as I said we already have law firms stepping up to do this pro bono. I would certainly think that veterinarians -- that's what Rhode Island did -- they use veterinarians, and we -- we put veterinarians in there. So I -- I think it's going to be a great learning experience and a great partnership with our, you know, our premier school.
REP. BARAM: So just if I can interrupt you for a second. If I'm a law student and I'm appointed as an advocate for an animal, what types of things would you expect me to be testifying about to the court? Would I be -- and let me just continue with that -- what I be asking the court also to impose some types of penalties or restraining orders or counseling or things of that nature or is this simply a report to the court of what I have felt?
REP. URBAN: That's why I wish that Jessica was here. Professor Rubin was going to, you know, was going to address all that. In my mind, it would be making sure that the extent of the injuries to the animal were brought up in court and somebody was representing those injuries, because it's not like if I get stabbed 29 times, you can bet I'm going to tell you how it felt and how I feel. The animal, obviously, can't do that -- to be sure that that's brought up and to be sure that the link of possible future violent behavior is also brought up.
I don't see it as an extensive, you know, big investigation. It's going to be very obvious from the report from the police that injuries, and, you know, there's a list that you can -- you can look at that's -- some of them, you know, boggle the imagination that people would do with they do, but I don't think it's going to be a heavy lift to -- to express what the injuries and what the problem is.
REP. BARAM: Well, thank you for your responses and your testimony. In terms of the language of the bill, just for the purposes of the committee that, you know, there's -- there's language in here that talks about someone having -- an advocate having knowledge about the needs and protection of the animals and relevant court proceedings. In my mind, you might not need that and that person certainly could be knowledgeable about animals or knowledgeable about court proceedings, you probably don't need both. I think you need knowledge about animals, perhaps, but court proceedings, you probably could be filled in pretty quickly. And then it also talks about the appointment of law firms as an entity, which in my mind doesn't make sense, there's probably people within the law firm, but there may be other people within the law firm that -- that no knowledge or care to. So just some technical changes that we may want to work on if the bill goes forward but thank you for coming today.
REP. URBAN: I really appreciate that because this is, obviously, going be JFS language, and I appreciate your input. Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
REP. ADINOLFI: Thank you. Just a short question for you, who determines what the cruelty is, and I'd like to give you an example. I don't consider it cruelty. I have someone in my neighborhood that their dog lost the use of its rear legs, but still has them, and he made wheels that he straps on the dog and the dog walks fine, you know, with those wheels behind him. But I've had some neighbors comment that he's being cruel because he's doing this, but the dog looks fine to me and very happy.
REP. URBAN: You know, actually, that -- it's a wonderful thing that they do with that, and I have had people come to me very, very, very old horses, their backs start to sway and then they're -- they get sort of big bellies and ribs and people think that the horse has, you know, there's something cruel going on. It's initially, Representative Adinolfi, it's your animal control officer who makes the first determination. And I think that you should feel much better because we've now instituted ACO training, which makes a big difference, because you're right, somebody sees that and they think it's cruel or they see an old horse with a sway back and, you know, a big tummy, but ribs, so it's the ACO who initially makes that. And a lot of times in some of our municipalities, the ACO is actually a police officer, so, you know, you might have that going on, and then the ACO very often if they're not sure will bring in a vet and bring in their local vet and say we're not sure with this horse -- with the sway back, but, you know, the thing that you're talking about, dogs do just phenomenally with that, and I think it's -- I think it's a wonderful thing.
REP. ADINOLFI: That's the way I feel on it. Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there others with questions?
REP. REBIMBAS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And, Representative, thank you for your testimony. I just wanted to quickly inquire, have you spoken to either Judge Quinn or Judge Carroll, the chief court administrators for the court system? Just curious.
REP. URBAN: I love your question, Representative Rebimbas, yes, I have talked with them, not only that, I've been with Judge Devlin down in Bridgeport. And to their credit, this year, they are going to be doing an animal cruelty panel for the judges, in the training. And I think it was probably because they said, you know, if she's willing to come all the way down to Bridgeport and sit with us and talk with us about this, maybe we're willing to step up, but, yes, Judge Carroll, Judge Quinn, Judge Norko -- yeah, we've had -- we've had some extensive conversations. I've tried to cover every base, Representative Rebimbas, and I haven't -- and I'm sure that you guys will eventually let me know.
REP. REBIMBAS: Well, thank you very much. And I know you and I have discussed this previously, as well, so I just want to say thank you again for proposing this. Thank you for doing your due diligence and actually contacting everyone and interested parties in being able to do something like this without a fiscal note. Appreciate that.
REP. URBAN: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there others?
REP. G. FOX: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And I would just like to echo Representative Rebimbas' comments in that I also have spoke -- had an opportunity to speak with you on this, and you certainly have thought in advance in preparation for the questions and the different interested groups that would -- would want to play a role or potentially play a role and attempted to get them to -- to buy into this proposal, as well as, you know, worked with -- in ways to determine how we can do this without a cost. And I think that all of that's important on any bill, and you've certainly shown the way to do it, so thanks for your testimony today and know we'll keep talking.
REP. URBAN: Representative Fox that is music to my ears. Thank you so much.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you, Representative Urban.
Andrea Cota is next.
REP. G. FOX: Please turn your microphone on if you could.
SENATOR COLEMAN: There's a button in front of you on the -- that activates the microphone.
ANDREA COTA EIGNER: Okay. Can you hear me now?
My name is Andrea Cota Eigner, and I'm from Cromwell, Connecticut. I am a survivor of the corrupt system, the Family Court system. I'm a mother of three boys, who I currently have no contact with because of the Family Court tyranny which began in 2008 in my case. My ex-husband no longer wanted to pay child support, and he used my religious beliefs in God as an excuse to manipulate the already corrupt system.
After four long years of battling the system, I recently filed a federal lawsuit for religious discrimination, a constitutional violation, and also for alienation and damages, upon those responsible for allowing the process to take place. I am awaiting a federal judge's decision regarding the return home of my son who is 12.
I support Bill 6685 regarding shared custody, and I especially support the section contained in the sharing of religious development. A few changes I would like to see made. I think are really important. One of them is a line added to the title, which also would be within the body of the bill, referencing reinforcement of our constitutional rights, not only as American citizens, but also as citizens of Connecticut. Since we are the people of this Constitutional State, we should be setting an example for the rest of the country here.
And another line to be added to the title and within the body of the bill would be that of holding the lawbreakers in the system accountable from the date in which the constitution was written. What we're really asking for in this bill is the reinforcement of our human rights. Everything listed here goes back to human rights, all listed within the Constitution, already given to us in 1787. Now, if we don't reference the Constitution in the title of our bill, we will be allowing these lawbreakers to not be held accountable for any of the laws they have broken prior to the date that this bill passes. And it's also important to hold all of them accountable for the tyranny and abuse that they have caused the many, many families in this state and country so that they will not continue in this behavior.
Also some type of a program in the bill to be put in place to monitor the actions of these people: The judges, lawyers, GALs, their behavior, perhaps, a committee of civilians because, let's face it, you know, once corrupt, you can be retrained but you can always fall back, you have the tendency to fall back to this corrupt behavior, and the money drove them. I can tell you that. I have proof. I've heard bribes in hallways of the courts about the money that drove these people to do it, the greed. You know, and -- they have no remorse for ripping these children apart, never mind the parents. I don't see my kids -- my little boy in eight months because I spoke up in court and they told me, again, for about the fifth time you talk about God to your son. And I asked them don't you realize this is a constitutional violation? This has been going on for four years in this court in Middletown. And they just ignore any evidence I've ever brought in, they don't care. It's just -- they got paid by my ex so he wouldn't have to pay child support and, therefore, they just keep up their end so they can get repeat business and this what it comes down to. It's -- trafficking our children, you know, I have more detail here if you -- if I have a few more minutes, that I'd like to give you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Actually, you don't. That chime that you just heard -- and this is for the benefit of everybody who's preparing to present to the committee today -- when that chime goes off that means that your three minutes is up. And we would appreciate it if at that moment you begin to summarize the remainder of your testimony.
So I would appreciate it if you moved to summary and then if the members of the committee have questions, they can pose those questions.
ANDREA COTA EIGNER: Okay. All right.
Let's see, well, I'd just like to give you a little bit more detail in my summary about -- just trying to pick something out here so it's not so long. I'll just start here. Well, let me just tell you about, you know, just so you can get an idea about some of the things that go on, the corruption.
The GAL that was assigned to my court -- my case, she actually took me in a side room -- this was before I even got to see my son, it was 10 days in 2008 that I didn't get to see my son -- and you know, they know it -- it's all planned ahead. They do this. They pick specific times, dates, just to put you in a situation where you're -- you'll tremble and fall, which I had done many times, and I'm lucky to be sitting here today that I can tell my story and stand up for my -- my situation, my children and other people's children -- but she takes me in the side room and she tells me, Listen, if you don't sign your son over to your ex, I'll put you away and I'll drug you until you do, and you can believe it or not but, as God is my witness, that's what she told me. And I know several women across the country have been researching this for a long time, talking to people, other victims who have been put away in asylums, drugged beyond knowing who they are so that they don't get to stand up for their rights to raise their children because of money that was involved in payoffs, and this is a serious, serious situation here. We've got, you know, quite involved trafficking, not just in our state but throughout our nation, throughout the world really. I've talked to people across the world, across the country. And it's a shame, you know, that here we are -- the United States, everybody else looked us to us, and they say to us, you're having the same problem, too, now here, the United States, we all thought that you guys had it together. Well, we don't. We are going downhill, you know, and I can tell you more ways than one, but this is one huge way. And our children, our families are being torn apart by the millions. This isn't a couple hundred families. This isn't thousands. This is by the millions. And pretty soon it's going to be our grandchildren. I don't have any yet, but I probably will soon, I hope, someday if I ever get to meet them. But my two oldest children that are adults now are brainwashed against me because I'm standing up against their father. And he dished out a lot of money to them, too. So it's all about the money, the greed, and if we can't get this, you know, rectified, it's going to go on and on.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you, Ms. Cota.
Are there questions from members of the committee?
Seeing none, thank you for your presentation.
ANDREA COTA EIGNER: Okay. And I hope you can help us all. Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: You're welcome. Thank you.
Brenda Kupchick. Representative Kupchick is next. Representative Kupchick will be followed by Joan Kloth-Zanard.
REP. KUPCHICK: Good afternoon.
Good afternoon, Senator Coleman, Senator Kissel, Representative Fox and Representative Rebimbas, and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee. I come before you today to testify in strong support of HB 6690, AN ACT CONCERNING COURT PROCEEDINGS FOR PROTECTION OF ANIMALS.
Animals hold a very near and dear place in my heart. For many years I have rescued, fostered -- and fostered animals and have been very involved with local shelters. And it breaks my heart to hear stories like Alex Bernard's in 2011, where Bernard stabbed his puppy, Princess, a one-year-old Stafford terrier, 29 times and find it's incredible that animal abusers are let -- allowed to get away or get away with a very small slap on the wrist from the courts.
Individuals who pose threats to animals have also been proven to be serious threats to humans. According to the 1997 study done by the Massachusetts Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Northeastern University, animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people and four more times likely to commit property crimes than individuals without a history of animal abuse.
Many studies during the last 25 years have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal abuse. The FBI has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when it analyzed the lives of serial killers, suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children. Other research has shown consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spousal abuse and elder abuse. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorder.
History of high profile examples of this connection include, Patrick Sherrill, who killed 14 coworkers at a post office and then shot himself, had a history of stealing local pets and allowing his dog to attack and mutilate them. Earl Kenneth Shriner, who raped and stabbed and mutilated a seven-year-old boy, had been widely known in his neighborhood as the man who put firecrackers into dogs. Brenda Spencer, who opened fire at the San Diego school and killing two children and injuring nine others, had repeatedly abused cats and dogs, often setting them on fire. Columbine High School -- as was mentioned earlier today by Representative Urban -- who shot and killed the 12 children -- classmates, and bragged about mutilating animals to their friends.
Today, we can do something to ensure that the courts take animal abuse seriously and use the tools this legislature has put in place to prevent violence from occurring in our communities. I realize this is an unconventional idea; however, history of the court's lenient rulings regarding animal abuse clearly shows an advocate would be helpful in ensuring the courts understand the seriousness of these types of crimes and give a voice to defenseless animals who cannot speak on behalf of themselves.
There is a direct correlation between animal cruelty and violence against humans. We've seen it. We don't really need to even see the FBI data; although it's clearly stated there. There is something wrong with people who will do those types of things. Think about it. Someone who stabs a puppy 29 times is not someone we want walking amongst us in society. This is someone who needs either mental health treatment or needs to be put in a prison. This is not someone who needs to be let out on an accelerated rehabilitation. So I just ask that -- humbly ask that you would consider this legislation. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you for your testimony.
Are there questions for Representative Kupchick?
Seeing none, we appreciate your input.
REP. KUPCHICK: Thank you very much.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Joan Kloth-Zanard. Good morning.
JOAN KLOTH-ZANARD: Thank you. Sorry. Again, I do project well anyways. My name is Joan Kloth-Zanard. I'm from Southbury, Connecticut. And I'm also -- run a non-profit called PAS Intervention, which is for victims of parental alienation. And I've done this for 17 years. I have over 600 members at present, between my two support groups, and that doesn't include my Connecticut -- the Connecticut chapters and the chapters in many other states. Basically, it provides support for victims. But I'm going to tell you a little bit about my husband's story and then go into some other stuff.
In 1996, my husband's second wife began impeding this relationship with the kids, separated for three years with generous and liberal visitation. They were in the process of getting divorced using the same attorney to save money when the ex changed attorneys without notifying him or the joint attorney. She filed a divorce without proper notification, leaving him unaware of the upcoming proceedings. At the divorce proceeding, the ex painted a horrible picture of my husband, but he was not there to object. The judge took the ex-wife's word for it, everything including child support demands, despite there being no proof of my husband's income. The judge did, however, give him liberal visitation. It took over four and a half years of trying to get child support reduced and, finally, being appointed a pro bono attorney by the judge -- for the judge to finally accept the reduction in child support, but the judge refused to retro back to the original -- to when my husband originally filed the motion to have his child support changed.
Today, 17 years later, my husband is still paying arrearages. Sadly, once his wife -- ex-wife found out that he had gone on with this life and had a new girlfriend, she began to refuse him visitation of his children, and then came the false allegations of abuse, including a false restraining order. It took us eight months of Family Court evaluations to determine that the ex had lied and anything the children knew had been told to them by their mother. It was further determined that the mother refused to accept that her ex-husband had not moved on with his life. This is when I realized that something was wrong, that this wasn't okay. Refusing visitation of -- to children, along with the false allegations of abuse, was psychologically damaging to the children. I began to do Internet research, went back to school to get my master's in marriage and family therapy and that's when I stumbled upon parental alienation. But, by this time, my husband has only seen his children six times since 1996 and has not seen them since 2006. They are 23 and 25, and to this day, still refuse to have a relationship with him.
I'm here because there are hundreds of parents that cannot be here, and I'm speaking for them. These parents come -- come broken due to the failed Family Court system. They're riddled with post traumatic stress syndrome in the form of narcissistic victim syndrome, which will be in our DSM. Many of these parents are good parents, not perfect, but then there is no such thing as a perfect parent, is there? Absent abuse and neglect children have the right to a healthy, happy, successful relationship with both parents. The bills you are hearing about today are indicative of the family law divorce system that in the state is broken. They show how dramatically broken, corrupt they are. We need reforms immediately. In all three of these bills, we are introducing, we are reducing conflict, litigation, animosity between parents so that these children's lives will not be permanently harmed today.
In addition, we have the tools and we have the resources that the judges and the guardian ad litems can be using to stop the alienation and to help prevent it from getting worse.
In conclusion, please, anything we can do to prevent the snowball effect of custodial interference would be appreciated.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there questions for Ms. Kloth-Zanard?
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'm just intrigued a little bit. In the beginning of your testimony you said that in your husband's situation a trial occurred without his being present. I know that courts go at great lengths to give notice. Was her husband unavailable or out-of-state, or I'm just curious how that --
JOAN KLOTH-ZANARD: No. What happened was the judge -- the sheriff served the papers upon the wrong abode. He never got the paperwork. When his attorney questioned the sheriff, he did not get it writing from the sheriff, who admitted that he served it on the wrong address. When in court, the sheriff changed his testimony and stated, Oh, no, no, I served it. He never served my husband. It would be -- it was -- he admitted to the sheriff -- he couldn't serve my husband because the way my husband's door is -- was at that time, it was sealed so you couldn't flip papers in and around it. He would have either had to hand it to him or stick it in the mailbox and he didn't do either. He admitted to sticking it in the house that was in the front of his trailer where he lived.
REP. BARAM: And so this trial proceeded and when it terminated, it was only afterwards that your husband found out that all of this had happened?
JOAN KLOTH-ZANARD: When he got the divorce papers himself in the mail, that's when he found out he was divorced. And he's like, Whoa, I didn't know I was getting divorced. We tried to overturn it. In addition to the fact that she, his ex, was able to claim income with no proof of income. They hadn't been together for three years. He had been separated for three years with generous and liberal visitation until she found out that he was dating and going out and they had decided to get a divorce and he had met me. She turned around, changed attorneys without notifying anybody.
REP. BARAM: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there other questions?
If not, thank you very much.
JOAN KLOTH-ZANARD: Thank you very much for your time.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Senator Hartley, Joan Hartley.
SENATOR HARTLEY: Good afternoon --
SENATOR COLEMAN: Good afternoon.
SENATOR HARTLEY: -- members of the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Coleman and Chairman Fox, and thank you for this opportunity to appear before you, I guess, this afternoon.
For the record, my name is Joan Hartley, and I appear before you to speak in favor of Senate Bill 1156, AN ACT CONCERNING THE RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL IN CERTAIN ACTION ALLEGING DISCRIMINATORY PRACTICES.
And I appear before you with Attorney Michelle Holmes, who I'm proud to say is in the city of Waterbury and, parenthetically, has opened her office in the historic district of Hillside in one of our beautiful historic homes. I can't help but talk about this because it's a very proud part of our downtown core, but that's not why we're here.
The genesis of SB 1156 is a conversation that I had with Attorney Holmes, who specializes in civil rights and discriminatory employment practice. And in conversation with Attorney Holmes, it was apparent that there -- in instances where the State is named as a defendant in an employment discrimination practice -- and for better or worse, we recognize the fact that the State is indeed one of the largest employers in the state so we -- it is a significant employment population, but in a case where there is an action brought for discrimination against the State, a plaintiff does not have the option for a trial by jury. Apparently, that is not explicitly stated in 46a and, therefore, the plaintiff is relegated to trial by judge or the bench. But I will defer with your approval to Attorney Holmes who can speak very articulately with regard to this proposal.
MICHELLE HOLMES: Good afternoon, and I do -- do have a statement that I presented. As the Senator has stated, my name is Michelle Holmes. I practice in Waterbury, and I do focus my practice on civil rights -- plaintiff's civil rights litigation. I want to thank you for allowing me to come and testify this morning. And I do, particularly, want to thank Senator Hartley, who had invited me to attend. The issue of allowing constituents to avail themselves to a jury trial in cases where the state of Connecticut is the employer is one that's very important to me as well as my clients. When I contacted Senator Hartley, she was kind enough to meet with me and really not long after I find myself here testifying and I'm -- I'm very appreciative of whatever the outcome of this is that I've had the opportunity to our participate in this process.
I just want to give an example of a case that I was in recently. It involved the State of Connecticut, as a defendant-employer. The action was brought in Hartford Superior Court. Typically, once you close the pleadings, you would file a claim for the jury list in these cases, but then I realized because it had come up in the past for me that as soon as I would have claimed it to the jury list, the State Attorney General's Office, who represents the state, will move to strike my claim because it's been said, fairly regularly by the Superior Court, that just because the State had -- or the Legislature has waived the state sovereign immunity with respect to the being able to sue the employer, which, again, it is a large employer and I often find the State as a defendant in my cases, does not necessarily mean that they waived -- that I'm allowed to have a trial by jury. So I'm here to support this legislation because I think a trial by jury is important and I don't think it makes any sense to have the State of Connecticut -- again, a huge employer -- excused or out of the -- of the jury process.
A rule that allowed the judge to decide whether the State of Connecticut violated an employee's civil rights rather than a jury of our peers seems unfair to me, very unfair. In fact, I think putting that burden on a judge, who is employed by the state, appointed by our Governor, to make a decision about whether someone's civil rights were violated in the context of employment is a conflict of interest. It's also important to consider federal law when you look at this because we track -- the State of Connecticut tracks Title VII with connection with the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. And when you bring a claim against the State in federal court, since the amendment in 1981, you get a trial by jury.
I didn't find any discussions where there was an issue about whether it's the State or a private employer. It has more to do with if -- what kind of damages they're seeking. But that was amended by Congress and so Title VII, you clearly get the right to a trial by jury. And I think Connecticut should continue to track that statute and allow that to happen here, as well.
I haven't fully litigated the issue, and I haven't considered every angle of the proposed bill. I do know that in my recent case I had one claim against the State and I had other claims against individuals, so not only did I have a jury trial going on, but I had a bench trial going on at the same time. And it was confusing and burdensome really, and it forced me to make strategic or recommendations to my client that I don't think it was fair to place us in a situation in terms of which claims we would pursue or not. I don't think jurors are -- classically run away. I don't think the state would be exposed to extra monetary issues just because a jury hears it. Our jurors that I find are fair and reasonable people. Judges certainly have the right to lower a verdict if they do feel that it's excessive. And I don't think there's -- there's any cost effectiveness to not having a jury because I still had to pick one against the other claims so there was no savings there.
So, respectively I -- I appreciate, again, the time here, and I hope that you really give this some consideration as I think in terms of plaintiff's civil rights cases, it's very important.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you both.
Are there questions?
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for your testimony. Just curious, what about other states, do you know if there are any other states that permit jury trials? Obviously, the federal government does. Any experience with any other?
MICHELLE HOLMES: I was driving here this morning, I said, I bet someone's going to ask me whether I looked to see if other states and I -- that's why I threw the line in there that I have not litigated the issue in Connecticut where you would do some sort of constitutional analysis which would include, I suppose, what other states have -- have done. And I think that's a good question. I certainly don't know the answer, as I sit here today, in terms of other states. I have the federal comparison because I do so much federal work, but I don't know the answer to that. (Inaudible.)
REP. BARAM: If you are able to find out --
MICHELLE HOLMES: Yes.
REP. BARAM: -- in your research, if you could share that with the committee I think it would be appreciated.
SENATOR HARTLEY: Absolutely. And I just like to thank Representative Baram for his question. Yeah, you're absolutely right that occurred to me, as well, and it's always a good frame of reference I think in many issues when we go forward so, we will be about seeking that comparison. Thank you, sir.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there other members with questions?
REP. D. FOX: Just very briefly. Do you know at the federal level, how long has the right to the jury trial been in place, approximately?
MICHELLE HOLMES: Thank you for that question Representative Fox. I did substantial research that somewhat before coming here today, and what I found was that prior to 1991, in -- when you brought a claim under Title VII, which is the Civil Rights statute -- the federal Civil Rights statute, they determined that the type of damages that it was a -- it was a damages issue about whether you would get a trial by jury or not. And because the relief was, essentially, back pay, they had held that the judges decided equitable relief, and so it was the judges should hear it. Congress amended in 1991 to make clear that the relief you can seek under Title VII is not just equitable but also from pay or compensatory emotional distress so that issue went away and, you know, I wasn't practicing in 1991, but ever since I've been practicing since '98, I've had the right to a jury trial. But I didn't see any analysis about sovereign immunity which is, I believe, the State's view of why we shouldn't get a right to trial by jury. They don't want to chip away at their sovereign immunity. But, really their sovereign community is abrogated. We can sue the State, so why can't I have a jury trial?
REP. D. FOX: Thank you.
MICHELLE HOLMES: Thank you, sir.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are the others with questions?
Just out of curiosity, I'm assuming that it would be the case that in a case of employment discrimination against the State that the complainant would still have to go to the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities or --
MICHELLE HOLMES: Yes.
SENATOR COLEMAN: -- or -- or DEOC.
MICHELLE HOLMES: Yes, Senator Coleman, and that's a good point, too. I'm not looking to change any of the administrative processes. Obviously, they're there for a purpose. We must file with the CHRO within six months of the date of the adverse employment action. And then after its pending, you can get your release or whatever. Those channels will all be followed. This is very narrowly tailored to the issue of can I have a jury of my peers? And why can't I, just because it's the state of Connecticut. It's a huge employer and it really prevents, actually, plaintiffs from going to state court. And I think that some of these cases -- that's exactly where we should be is in state court. But because I can't have a jury, I'll go to federal court.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Okay.
Are there others with questions?
If not, thank you both very much.
MICHELLE HOLMES: Thank you.
SENATOR HARTLEY: Thank you, Chairman, members of the committee.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Chief Joe Gaudett.
Sharon Dornfield -- Dornfeld.
SHARON DORNFELD: Sharon Dornfeld. Thank you. I am appearing today on behalf of the Family Law section of the Connecticut Bar Association. I had submitted earlier written testimony regarding House Bill 6685. I was not present this morning for Representative Fasano's testimony, but I understand that he -- on the basis of his testimony, it's not likely that 6685 will be pursued right now; and therefore, I will spare you my further comments regarding the specifics of that bill.
I also understand that the suggestion was proposed for some sort of a task force or a commission regarding guardians ad litem. And I would simply say that on behalf of the Family Law Section that we would be more than happy to cooperate in any way if such a task force or commission were formed and, in fact, would certainly hope to be included as participants in that venture.
So long as I have a few moments remaining, I would just also say, individually, and not as a representative of the Family Law Section, that I am a practicing family law lawyer, have been so for more than 25 years, and I would personally concur with the remarks that will be coming shortly from Attorney Arnold Rutkin on behalf of our section that 1155 should be -- should not be passed. I would absolutely oppose that. So unless there are some questions at this point, I will spare you my further comments.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Do members have questions?
REP. REBIMBAS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And good afternoon. I just wanted to thank you for coming up and taking the time to testify, obviously, on behalf of these bills that are before us.
I've had several conversations with people, both people who had testified and also members of this committee, regarding the GAL-AMC new training program and, certainly, I think it's been leaps and bounds this certification training requirement and, certainly, look forward to having your input then if this does turn into a task force, as I know that you are certainly a dedicated -- I will say expert in the field, so I do appreciate the work that you've done in the certification training program which I -- for full disclosure and certainly have already communicated with several people that it's a program that I participated through and, again, I think it's leaps and bounds from GAL not being required to be trained or certified or having the appropriate guidelines to now having this program in the state of Connecticut and requiring each GAL and AMC to participate in before being appointed in any case but, certainly, look forward to your continued cooperation and input on any task force moving forward.
SHARON DORNFELD: Thank you, Representative Rebimbas. As you indicated, we've been doing these training programs. We have now trained 1100 people. And as you're probably aware, our current rules now provide that only persons who have been through this 30-hour training may be appointed as attorneys for minor children or as guardian ad litems, so I agree with you that I think that we have made great progress here in having, at least, a baseline for qualifications for people who are appointed and serve in those capacities so thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there other members with questions?
If not, thank you very much for your testimony.
SHARON DORNFELD: Thank you, Senator Coleman.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Chief Joseph Gaudett.
Chief Gaudett will be followed by Judge Elliott Solomon.
CHIEF JOESEPH GAUDETT: Good afternoon. Thank you, Senator Coleman, Representative Fox, members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Joe Gaudett. I am the chief of police in Bridgeport, and I'm here to let you know that I'm fully supportive of proposed House Bill 6682, AN ACT CONCERNING COLLABORATION BETWEEN BOARDS OF EDUCATION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL. And I appreciate the opportunity to address you on this important topic because I believe we can't leave the fate of Connecticut's children to chance.
Last year, the Bridgeport Police Department and the Board of Education entered into a memorandum of understanding where we clearly delineated our goals and criteria for police and the school system to work together to make our schools safe and reduce the number of school-based arrests. That effort combined with a comprehensive review of security procedures in every school has made the Bridgeport school system one of the safest in the state and establishes it as a model for collaboration.
In the last school year, Bridgeport has reduced the number of school-based arrests by 39 percent, and that's not by accident. I believe, as do my partners in the school system, that children belong in classrooms and not in jail cells.
To achieve the goals statewide, we need the collaboration of educators, law enforcement professionals and legislators. I have the utmost confidence in my officers and our partners in the education system. At the same time, I and the superintendent must clearly define our visions and expectations. The reality is the incidents that lead to school-based arrests are fluid and can be volatile. So we must provide our professionals with the tools and clear guidance they deserve.
The children who struggle in school invariably struggle at home and, often, they are the children who create problems in our neighborhoods. It seems only logical that these are the young people who most need support and should remain in the supportive environment of a school, not a juvenile detention center or the street. That is what makes it so important to set a statewide standard where officers and educators have clear policies defined through thoughtful memorandums of understanding.
I thank you for your time and consideration.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there questions for the Chief?
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for coming, Chief. There was some earlier testimony expressing concern about costs or time commitments between this collaboration. I'm just wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on whether or not you think this is something that's going to be costly to a municipality, and if it's an undue burden to require there be some collaboration in a memorandum of understanding?
CHIEF JOESEPH GAUDETT: It's work, sir. It is work. But it's -- it's part of the business that we do. It's a way of doing business. We could certainly not do it and not speak to each other and ignore each other and then not solve these issues, or we can work together. We need to do the work, it's how we do the work that's important. So is it going to cost more? I don't believe so. I mean, it takes time to collaborate, to meet, but you find that when you do meet, you talk about a lot of things and not just these issues that -- that help to make the schools a safer place, as well as our neighborhoods a safer place. So an undue burden, no. Certainly, it's work, but -- but, again, my officers are there for the eight hours to do their jobs. I would prefer that they do them in this manner and not in some other manner.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there other members with questions?
REP. O'DEA: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you for your testimony. We have a school resource officer in -- in New Canaan in our one high school, and there was a lot of push back against having the officer there, and it's been an unbelievable success.
And how long have you had your SROs in Bridgeport?
CHIEF JOESEPH GAUDETT: At least 15 years, sir.
REP. O'DEA: All right. So -- and how long have you had these memorandums of understanding with the board of ed?
CHIEF JOESEPH GAUDETT: We just signed it last July.
REP. O'DEA: And from my review of the testimony, it's been a pretty -- the MROs have been a success; is that fair to say?
CHIEF JOESEPH GAUDETT: Indeed. Because I think it, you know, it brought to people's attention what we're really trying to accomplish by having the officers in the schools. I think we refocused the attention.
REP. O'DEA: Thank you very much for your testimony.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Other questions from any other members?
If not, thank you very much, Chief.
CHIEF JOESEPH GAUDETT: Thank you for having me, sir.
Good afternoon everyone.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Judge Elliot Solomon.
Good afternoon, your Honor. Thank you so much for your patience.
JUDGE ELLIOT SOLOMON: Oh, not a problem. Is it on? Okay, thank you.
Good afternoon, Senator Coleman, Representative Fox -- I'm sorry, he's not here -- Representative Rebimbas, and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Elliot Solomon. I am a judge of the Superior Court and have had the privilege of serving in that capacity for the past 17 years. I currently serve as the administrative judge for the Tolland Judicial District.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify on House Bill 6688, AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO STATUTES RELATING TO THE AWARD OF ALIMONY. I am here today, not to represent the official position of the Judicial Branch, but to provide you with some background information on this bill.
Over the past several months, I have had the honor and privilege of working with a small group of individuals, including two members of this committee, who have been engaged in an examination of the statutes relating to alimony and to assess whether change was needed. As a judge, my role in the process was simply to serve as a resource to the working group based upon my experience in family law as an attorney and on the bench.
The goal of the group was to identify recommendations on which it could reach consensus. A variety of viewpoints were represented, ranging from the opinion that no change was needed to one that comprehensive change was needed. Our discussion occurred over a period of four months, and during that time input was solicited from the Connecticut Bar Association Family Law Section, the Connecticut Chapter of the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the Connecticut Women's Educational and Legal Fund and other groups, including a speaker who had proposed alimony reform in a bill which was submitted to you last year. Based upon these recommendations, the working group arrived at the consensus recommendations that make up House Bill 6688.
And I'd like to take a moment to summarize these recommendations. They include the following: First, updating and gender-neutralizing Connecticut General Statutes 46b-36, concerning property and contract rights. This statute hasn't been substantively changed in more than 50 years and goes back to a time when it was necessary to establish a woman's separate property rights. It also does not recognize the fact that, in Connecticut today, we have same-sex marriage statutes. The recommended changes would simply address these -- shortcomings.
The proposed bill would also amend Connecticut General Statutes, Section 46b-81, regarding the court's ability to assign property and to state that the court can do so after considering all of the evidence presented by each party rather than after hearing the witnesses. The proposed amendment simply is more inclusive and encompasses not only witness testimony but other evidence presented, as well, such as documents, stipulations, and so on.
The bill also adds earning capacity and education as factors that the court must consider when it fashions orders regarding the assignment of property and alimony. I think that those considerations, though not stated in the current statute, typically, are considered by courts in making awards. And this simply makes express that which I think has always been implied.
In the alimony statute, we have added as a consideration the term "feasibility of the custodial parent seeking employment" as a factor that the court must consider when making an alimony award. The existing statute speaks to the "desirability of the custodial parent seeking employment." We now have added the term "desirability and feasibility."
We have also recommended in House Bill 6688 that if any judge be required who orders indefinite, or what we all lifetime alimony, to articulate with specificity the basis for that order. Unfortunately, the language that is currently in the bill, at line 77 through 79, which is before you, does not reflect the working group's agreement as it limits the articulation requirement only to nonmodifiable lifetime orders. I believe that was inadvertent. I'm not sure that I've ever seen a lifetime nonmodifiable order.
The consensus recommendation of the group is that the articulation be required for all lifetime orders. And to accomplish this, I would respectfully request that the committee incorporate the amendment which has been attached into the language of the bill. I should indicate to you that that amendment was the product of a meeting of the working group after the original bill was submitted and the amendment represents quick consensus, again, of the working group.
The bill would also specify that if judge considering a motion for modification finds that there's been a substantial change in circumstances, he or she should proceed then to the next step in the analysis and determine the extent to which, if any, the existing order should be modified based upon the criteria set forth in 46b-82, which is the alimony statute.
The bill would further specify -- require that if a judgment incorporates an agreement of the parties and if that agreement specifies circumstances under which alimony will be modified, suspended or terminated because of cohabitation other than as provided in the existing cohabitation statute, then the court must enforce that provision and enforce orders in accordance with it.
And finally, significantly, the bill provides for a study to be done of the fairness of our existing statutes. Rather than take action based upon the views or experiences of a few, such an evaluation will allow the Legislature to determine whether, in fact, the existing statutes are fair and equitable or, alternatively, whether further review and revision is necessary.
I believe, and I believe the working group, as well, believes, that these proposed changes will adequately address any areas of perceived weakness in Connecticut's alimony statutes, and I urge the committee to approve them.
I would also like to comment briefly on Senate Bill 1155, which is AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO STATUTES RELATING TO DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE, LEGAL SEPARATION AND ANNULMENT. Specifically, I wish to state that the bill does not represent the consensus of the working group. In fact, representatives speaking to the working group on behalf of the Connecticut Bar Association Family Law Section, the Connecticut Chapter of the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the Connecticut -- and the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund and Legal Aid do not support that bill. Although the bill contains many provisions, with which I do not personally agree, I draw your attention one in particular, and that is the use of guidelines in determining appropriate alimony orders.
It is problematic for a number of reasons: First, it's a misnomer to call them guidelines because if you don't use them, you have to explain why you didn't use them. I know in some submissions some of the authors or people who have written in, have said they're just suggestions, but they're more than suggestions. If you don't use them, you have to articulate why.
Second, there is no financial basis for the formula which this bill proposes. Child support guidelines were the product of an economic assessment regarding how much of family's earned income goes to the support of the children. By way of contrast, these guidelines represent nothing more than somebody's philosophical view of how much support a spouse should receive following a dissolution of marriage. The percentages used in the formula could just as easily be increased or decreased by 10, 15, or 20 percent without any economic rationale at all.
And I would note that in the few examples in this country where guidelines are used -- and they indeed are few, I believe there's only three states and a handful of counties -- the guidelines that are recommended in this bill do not comport with the guidelines that are set forth in the statutes of those other states. And in fact, the statutes that are -- exist in other states, don't comport with each other; in other words, these various guidelines that are incorporated are all over the lot, which suggests, again, to me, that there is no financial basis for a formula in terms of guidelines.
This leads to the biggest problem. Guidelines don't comport with our existing statute. The proposed guidelines are entirely income driven, but our statute requires, as it should, consideration of more than a dozen criteria, which themselves are not exclusive. Other considerations, such as health, station in life, employability, sacrifices made by a stay-at-home parent in furtherance of a career of the other are not part of the guidelines. And in that sense, what we have today is timeless and the considerations and the factors that I, as a judge, today have to use in making awards are no less valid than they were 40 years ago. Health, education, income, vocational skills, all apply with equal validity today.
Dissolution of marriage cases are equitable in nature, and the ability of a court to act equitably when confronted with the incredibly varied circumstances which we see every day cannot be accomplished with guidelines. I urge the committee not to approve this bill.
And I thank you for your consideration. I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there questions for Judge Solomon?
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First, I want to thank Judge Solomon for waiting for most of the morning to testify. I also want to take a moment to indicate that I had the great privilege, along with Representative Klarides, to co-chair this working group that also consisted, in addition to Judge Solomon, Judge Bozzuto and former Justice McLachlan, and Deborah Fuller from the Judicial Department was a great assistance to us, as well, and participated. This was a very rewarding working group because we had an opportunity to review the various alimony statutes, hear from the interested parties, as Judge Solomon indicated. For me, it was like going back to law school, hearing the judges debate among themselves, and I learned a lot so -- it was professionally rewarding, as well.
But I think that the task force did an excellent job in trying to come to consensus on very difficult issues. And I just wanted to ask Judge Solomon, in addition to the study, which is a key component, maybe I should focus on that a moment -- for those who are proponents of guidelines or something akin to them, is it your understanding that the recommendation of a study doesn't preclude the review of what other states may be doing in that area?
JUDGE ELLIOT SOLOMON: No, actually, I think, although we didn't want to dictate to Program Review what they should look at. We did indicate a few things that was suggested they look at and that, specifically, was -- was one of them, is what are other jurisdictions doing. Again, there's very few that use guidelines, but it would be interesting to note how they're working. And toward that end, one of the other things, we want to know if there's a problem. And one of the things that we hope that they will look at is many, many years ago, in other jurisdictions, studies have been done in cases involving husbands and wives or, in our state, individuals of the same gender, but studies have been done to look at where people are five and ten years down the road after the entry of a decree to see how really effective support orders are and how much lives have changed, and that's one of the things we would hope would be done from our cases, here in Connecticut, just to see what the actually experience is down the road and where the parties stand in relation to each other down the road.
Again, there was a study done a long, long time ago -- I believe it was in the eighties -- which by some has been discredited, but, essentially, determine that the payors of alimony essentially have recovered within a short period of the time after the entry of decree; whereas the ones who were dependent on spousal support, basically, remained where they were. I can't recall the last time any substantive study like that has been done of any significance, and I'm not sure that it's been done, quite frankly, in this state.
REP. BARAM: And just for further explanation to the committee, the issue of lifetime alimony until death or upon remarriage, was that an issue that seemed to be weighing heavy on -- on some of the people who testified to the commission that they were concerned, and, actually, there were some stories this morning in testimony on other bills about not understanding how a judge issues an order that could be, you know, so burdensome to stay with the payor, perhaps, for a lifetime. And I wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on what the thinking of the committee was.
JUDGE ELLIOT SOLOMON: Well, in my experience, and I think the experience of most judges, we typically tend to enter orders which have some finite duration, whether it's remarriage, death, or a period of some term of years. But there are instances where orders are entered, which would terminate upon death or -- of either party, or the remarriage of the recipient, and that potentially could expose the payor -- the obligor with an obligation to pay, essentially, for the rest of his or the recipient's life. And it was the feeling of the committee that if, as a judge, you're going to tell a litigant that you're going to have an obligation which may continue, essentially, forever that you're going to have to do more than say I've considered all the statutes. You're going to have to elaborate upon the criteria which caused you to believe that an order of that nature is specifically warranted. And I think a litigant, in that situation, confronted with an obligation of that magnitude, I think we all felt was entitled to a greater articulation and that's why we did that.
REP. BARAM: And lastly, the other, you know, significant piece had to do with cohabitation. And I was wondering if you could just elaborate on the change that is being suggested how that differs from the existing statute?
JUDGE ELLIOT SOLOMON: There was a case that occurred a number of years ago where the parties said without any great detail that the -- the order of alimony would end upon, I believe a certain term of years or death or remarriage or cohabitation, and just stopped with the word "cohabitation."
And the question -- I believe the name of the case was DeMaria, if I'm not mistaken -- and the issue before the court was if the parties in their agreement -- and this was an agreed disposition -- if the parties in their agreement say that alimony turns on cohabitation, does that mean it's just cohabitation period or does it mean cohabitation under our statute, which requires not only cohabitation, but cohabitation under circumstances which alters the recipient's needs. In other words, there's a financial component to it. In the case that I've alluded to, the court -- I believe it was the Supreme Court -- said, if they say "cohabitation," that means the statute, and that's what we're left with. And again, since dissolution of marriage agreements can be a product of contract, if the parties, specifically, want to contract that cohabitation alone without financial consequences would be sufficient to terminate alimony, if that's their agreement, then a court should enforce that agreement without going to the statute. So we've created the ability of the parties to -- for basically to devise their own cohabitation agreement.
REP. BARAM: So, in essence, one of the -- some of the testimony that we've heard that was more egregious in terms of this cohabitation issue, the committee felt was being addressed by allowing the parties to come up with their own agreement and requiring that the court enforce it.
JUDGE ELLIOT SOLOMON: Correct.
REP. BARAM: Once again, I want to thank you, in particular, it was wonderful serving with you and I hope we'll have another opportunity to do so again, and I thank you for your hard work and Deborah Fuller, as well. Thank you.
JUDGE ELLIOT SOLOMON: The feeling was mutual.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there other members with questions?
Judge, maybe you can clarify something for me. I'm trying to figure out the correlation between status as custodial parent and an award of alimony. In your remarks, I believe you said, in making alimony award, the court should consider feasibility of custodial parent seeking employment rather than the desirability of a custodial parent seeking employment. I'm trying to figure out in what context that has to do with alimony.
JUDGE ELLIOT SOLOMON: Okay. Let me give you a good example. You have a -- one of the things that courts look at in deciding alimony awards, let's assume you have what at least used to be a more traditional situation where the husband went to work, the wife stayed at home with kids, but let's assume that the wife has a degree, an advanced degree, and could have an earning capacity, but they also have a child that's four years old and another one that's 18 months old. Clearly, if the court, if it wanted to, could attribute an earning capacity to the recipient to the stay-at-home spouse, but the statute as it exists today says that in making an alimony determination, the court should consider the desirability of the -- of the stay-at-home spouse remaining at home as opposed to going to work.
It was our feeling that desirability and feasibility are different things. Okay. It may be desirable but under the circumstances it may not be feasible and that could be for any number of reasons. We, you know, as we all know and I suspect that as you have all seen and heard in your own experiences, even a stay-at-home spouse could, perhaps, go out and work and put a child in daycare, but by the -- at the end of the day when you add all -- add up what you brought home and what you spent in daycare, was it feasible? Maybe not. There also could be health considerations with young children. So that's the reason for that. It really doesn't change the law. It just amplifies it a little bit more.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you. I appreciate that explanation.
Are there other members with questions?
If not, thank you both very much.
JUDGE ELLIOT SOLOMON: Thank you. Thank you all.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Erica Bromley.
ERICA BROMLEY: Senator Coleman and members of the Judiciary Committee, my name is Erica Bromley. I'm the director of the Manchester Youth Service Bureau, which is one of 102 Youth Service Bureaus serving 145 communities throughout Connecticut. In addition, I'm the vice president of the Connecticut Youth Services Association.
As you probably know, despite a decrease in overall rates of juvenile arrest, the proportion of arrests occurring in our schools has been rising. Research shows that this growing trend of in-school arrests is not caused by worsening behavior by students but rather by a change in the way adults respond to behaviors, largely due to policies that promote suspension, expulsion, and arrest that excludes students from the learning environment, too often for minor and noncriminal behaviors.
Raised Bill 6682, calls for districts with police in their schools to have a memorandum of understanding in place codifying the role of police officers and school administrators.
OPM's Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee developed a model MOU; and in Manchester, we have found it to be very effective. Using that MOU as a guide, the superintendent and key staff, the police chief, the Juvenile Court judge and the Youth Service Bureau, got together with our newly-formed Manchester Agencies Police and Schools Collaborative to look at graduated sanctions and how to use existing diversion programs, as well as create additional diversionary intervention options.
This bill also proposes to strengthen the collection and reporting of data. In Manchester, the collaborative partners work together to gather our data which was critical to ensuring buy-in to understanding how the issue affects our community and schools and to determine what types of graduated sanctions and school staff training would be most effective. The proposal to require each district to collect and report this data will make the process much easier for others beginning this work, as well as for those of us continuing to move forward. After several months of planning, our new system was implemented in the fall of 2011. We have now been able to analyze data prior to implementation through -- through the current time. What we have found was very encouraging.
At Manchester High School, school-based arrests decreased from 137 to 30, which is a 78 percent reduction from the 2010/'11 school year to '11/'12 school year. In the same period, expulsions also decreased by 69 percent. At the middle school, arrests were down 23 percent in the same period. Looking at the first six months of the current school year, arrests at the high school are down 71 percent compared to the first six months prior to implementation. And at the middle school, arrests are down 61 percent for the same timeframe.
Through the collective work of collaborative and new policy guidelines, school resource officers, school administration and school staff are now referring students more often to diversionary programs, as well as the service providers based on individual needs of the students and families. This work is done with strong leadership both inside and outside of the classroom and the will to keep youth out of court and in school. I truly believe that a collaborative initiative, such as the one in Manchester and in other communities, can be replicated throughout the state with similar success in an effort to not only reduce school-based arrests but also to improve school climate, student engagement and achievement.
Our efforts in Manchester have focused on keeping more kids in school in a safe and productive learning environment. The development of an MOU and the collection of school arrest data were critical aspects in those efforts. Those at the table in Manchester, as well as the board members of the Connecticut Youth Service Association, applaud the effort of the committee and support Raised Bill 6682. Thank you for your time, and I'm happy to answer any questions.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there questions for Ms. Bromley?
REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I asked some other questions earlier but I'm -- about this issue and -- but I'll direct a few different questions to you if you know. I'm wondering if we have any studies on these young people who are getting either arrested or now not arrested, it sounds like because of the system in place in Manchester. Are there any correlations to mental health issues that are being addressed in a different way now and as opposed to going through, you know, where in the past they had to go through the court system? Is that part of the component you're looking at?
ERICA BROMLEY: Yes. Definitely early intervention is one of the keys to this so addressing behaviors earlier before they get to the point of arrest is critical, and what we are seeing is that they are unidentified or unaddressed mental health and substance abuse issues that we're now able to provide services for or, at least, provide referrals for, and so that has been a major aspect of -- of the early intervention piece.
REP. SMITH: You know, and to me that's one of the issues we've been lax on and really need to focus more on because if they're not addressed or if they're not caught, we see what happened as kids grow on to be young adults and still are dealing with these demons so I'm glad to hear that that is being addressed in a way that it should be addressed.
Do you have any studies that show -- I know you gave us some statistics in terms of the percentages of what not -- but throughout the state, do we know how many young people are being arrested in our schools because of whatever?
ERICA BROMLEY: There certainly is data. I'm sure you'll be hearing from the Juvenile Justice Alliance and Voices on this specific data, but there certainly is data about school-based arrests and -- if that's what you're looking for.
REP. SMITH: All right. So I'm just going to make a pitch to whoever is out there in the audience who haven't -- hasn't spoken yet. I'm going to have to leave soon for another commitment, but if you could get me that information, it would be great to have. Just sent to my e-mail address here at the Capitol and -- because I think this is a big issue that we can really help our young people by getting them on track at an early age. So I appreciate you coming here today to testify and giving us some of the background. Thank you.
ERICA BROMLEY: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there further questions?
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you.
Can you explain to me when you say collaboration between the board of education and the law enforcement, is this -- right now -- this is going to change like what we have right now in the schools that we have, a security guard and something going on, a security guard, they act first and then they call, you know, the police. Is this something that's going to change that or --
ERICA BROMLEY: I think it's a clearer way of creating who responds to what kind of behaviors. Oftentimes in schools, disciplinary -- things that are really just discipline issues, but school staff, whether they be teachers or administrators can -- should be handling are often times moving towards being handled by security guards or police officers, so it gives a clearer expectation of what staff and what personnel need to respond to what kind of behaviors and at an earlier level so that they don't escalate to the point of needing intervention by school resource officers or other law enforcement personnel.
REP. GONZALEZ: In the public school, who will pay for this?
ERICA BROMLEY: Well, if there's an SRO that's already in place, this really just speaks to the fact of having that memorandum of agreement that clarifies what the roles are. So there is no new money for this. This was an agreement made between the superintendent and the police chief, explaining what their roles are and creating a graduated response model, specific to the district that discusses and clarifies who deals with what kinds behaviors and how they deal with them and who should be involved so there was no additional money put in for this.
REP. GONZALEZ: Okay. Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there others with questions?
Seeing none, thank you very much.
Representative Laura Hoydick is next.
ABIGAIL GILBERT: Is the red light -- it's on, okay.
Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for hearing me today. Before I speak on the bill, sponsored at my request, I would like to vocalize my support of HB 6685. My new husband fought an uphill battle to gain joint and shared custody of his boys, and in doing so spent tens of thousands of dollars. He's an amazing father to his boys and has become the most wonderful gift to my children. There's no presumptive better parent. Children deserve to have relationships maintained at the highest level whenever possible.
Unfortunately, there are those times when removing rights is consistent with what is in the child's best interest. It is to this issue I will primarily direct my testimony today, regarding SB 178, AN ACT CONCERNING THE CONTINUATION OF CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS AFTER THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS DUE TO ABUSE OR NEGLECT OF THE CHILD.
I appreciate the opportunity to come to you today. The issue at hand is one which has affected my life and continues to affect the lives of many within our state. When a person commits a crime against their own child so heinous that there their rights are terminated that would be physical abuse, sexual abuse, attempted murder, or the murder of a sibling child, two things are currently true. Number one, if convicted and incarcerated, per the Fatherhood Initiative, they can modify their child support to zero because they have no earnings; number two, if there parental rights get terminated due to the abuse against their own child, their support due to that child is also terminated.
Termination of parental rights is the last resort and difficult to achieve. Rights and obligations are separate per our already existing court precedents, yet this injustice remains in our system. It is a punitive action against the child victim. And the purpose of this bill is to ensure that child support can continue in force and effect in those specific cases. This may not include DCF actions, because DCF should be allowed to use the relief from support to unburden children within their system. And if it helps them to accomplish the termination, then I'm in favor of that. However -- and they also should not impact voluntary surrender of rights with no allegation of abuse. Child support should still end properly upon adoption of the child.
I understand the arguments that have hindered this bill from becoming law in the past, which last year, it did go out of this committee and it went to the House and it died on the -- it passed the House and died on the calendar. And I appreciate that very much and I hope this year you will pass it. This bill continues to allow DCF the freedom -- to use the freedom from financial obligations to induce agreement to terminations when it's in the best interest of the child.
It, however, allows the petitioning biological parent the opportunity to seek support necessary to continue to provide all the counseling and structure necessary for children whose lives have been devastated by abuse.
It takes the financial consideration out of the decision on whether to seek the highest and best protection for the abuse child.
For those who believe there other paths that provide the same net effect, such as removing rights of visitation, that was not my experience. Such rights may be reversed at any time. For the child it creates an environment of instability that is exceedingly detrimental to their growth, both mentally and physically.
I won't go into a reason for the inspiration. I've spoken here for the last five years to get this bill passed. You are well aware of the history. I fought full termination of my ex-husband's parental rights for the following reasons: An abusive individual craves power and control. While my ex had the rights, he had the power to force me to take the children that he had abused to see him, to force the children to have a relationship with him through visitation. Termination returned the power of choice to my children. My children wanted the termination of parental rights to occur, in fact, it would not have been permitted had they not signed the paperwork. The court shown -- had shown its concerns for my ex-husband's rights exceeded their concerns for my children's need for safety, stability and security. I had concerns for who he might bring into my children's lives as a result of the end of his prison term and halfway house living that proved justified because one of the men in his counseling group in prison who was released within days of his release was Joshua Komisarjevsky. I think that name is known to you all today. I chose wisely for my children. By the way, my youngest daughter, on that horrible night, was also 11 years old, the same age as Michaela.
I chose to terminate my ex-husband's rights with the full knowledge I would take a financial toll, and it would require huge sacrifices on my part to continue to provide the means necessary to meet my child's needs -- children's needs. It re -- equated to a loss of more than $25,000 per year. It represented, at that time, half of the income into my home. I know there -- there are those here who would argue the continuation of support after termination would continue the relationship. I need you to understand, biology is unaffected and relationship is made by choice, not a mandate. Before termination, it was an obligation. After termination it is an obligation from which my children were freed. The choices became theirs not his.
With the support orders terminated and full termination accomplished, my ex-husband violated no-contact orders, attempted to pursue a relationship with my oldest child causing tremendous emotional pain and confusion for my son. Nothing would've changed my ex-husband's actions. He had no respect for the law, no-contact orders or restraining orders.
Termination removes the abusers right to have authority over the children. It does not change the abuser. It does, however, take away his power to force a relationship. What it accomplishes is to remove all authority over the welfare and medical, mental health, moral, religious and educational choices for the child as well as the right to see the child.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you. Ms. Gilbert, thank you very much for your testimony. Have you submitted written testimony?
ABIGAIL GILBERT: I did. Can I just say one more portion of this because there's one part that's really important. And that's that the constitutionality of this has been questioned in the past. And I need you to understand that this was already examined in another state, in Illinois, by their Supreme Court and deemed totally constitutional because rights and obligations are separate.
REP. G. FOX: Okay, well. No, that's -- thank you for that final piece, and you're the individual Senator Fasano mentioned, is that correct, when -- when you testified?
ABIGAIL GILBERT: Yes. I'm probably the only one who will speak to this bill today directly, and it is a really important thing. It is an extreme injustice to these child victims to have a financial penalty when -- when they've done nothing wrong. It is a punitive action.
REP. G. FOX: Well, and I think I understand the distinction in that. There's certain termination of parental rights -- sometimes it's voluntary.
ABIGAIL GILBERT: That's different.
REP. G. FOX: I know -- I know you're not saying that here. I was going to get to that. And then there's situations where somebody behaves in such a way that the court has to terminated it and at the same time the question is should that person's other obligations be terminated with it? And your argument and Senator Fasano's argument, and you're making it very well, is that it should not be the case in those situations.
Are there questions or comments?
Well, thank you very much for your testimony today.
ABIGAIL GILBERT: I hope you read the rest of my testimony that I didn't get to give, please.
REP. G. FOX: We will, but we -- we all have it, and we'll all get a chance to look at it.
ABIGAIL GILBERT: Thank you very much.
REP. G. FOX: Thanks.
Neika Thompson. She left.
DAHLIA GRACE: I'm not Neika Thompson. She had to leave, and so I'm just going to speak very briefly on the -- behalf of the Legal Services Program.
REP. G. FOX: Is Kathleen Sullivan here? That's the -- I guess -- are you signed up to speak?
DAHLIA GRACE: I'm signed up to speak. Neika Thompson had to leave, and I'm going to present, briefly, her testimony if I'm allowed to.
REP. G. FOX: Okay. Okay. Please proceed.
DAHLIA GRACE: Thank you.
Speaking on behalf of the Legal Services Program, the Connecticut Legal Services, New Haven Legal Assistance and Greater Hartford Legal Assistance, and in support of House Bill 6682 and for the reasons that Police Chief Gaudett, and other persons have spoken on -- in support of that bill. And a few of those reasons being that there is a school-to-prison pipeline that has been observed in a few of the states -- the cities in the states, especially the cities, such as Waterbury. And we have some examples from attorneys who work with children and schools in the Willimantic area where children have been arrested disproportionately with mental health issues and other school related issues. And so we would support this -- this bill at this time because the experience of working with the police districts and the school districts would be very beneficial to students. Thank you.
And I'm happy to take questions but I am presenting --
REP. G. FOX: Well, thank you.
Are there any questions on that testimony?
Well, thank you. Thanks for summarizing it.
DAHLIA GRACE: Thank you very much.
REP. G. FOX: Kathleen Sullivan is next.
KATHLEEN SULLIVAN: Good afternoon.
REP. G. FOX: Good afternoon.
KATHLEEN SULLIVAN: Chairman Fox and members of the committee --
REP. G. FOX: Yeah, you know, probably, if you could just --
KATHLEEN SULLIVAN: Should I go over here?
REP. G. FOX: Yeah. If you could just sit in the middle there, I think that's probably the best --
KATHLEEN SULLIVAN: Okay.
REP. G. FOX: I'm sorry. Thank you for helping us.
KATHLEEN SULLIVAN: Okay. My name is Kathleen Sullivan. I'm here to testify in support of Raised Bill 6690, AN ACT CONCERNING COURT PROCEEDINGS AND THE PROTECTION OF ANIMALS. I'm a registered voter in Bloomfield. I'm a member of Connecticut Votes for Animals, and I have submitted written testimony on this topic, which I hope you have a chance to review so I'll keep this very short.
You have heard previously today that animal cruelty doesn't exist in a vacuum. Research supports the fact that it crosses over into areas of domestic violence, child abuse, gang activity. And Connecticut, in fact, even passed a law last year, which I'm sure you realize, requiring cross reporting of animal and domestic abuse. So when I read this study regarding the disposition of animal cruelty cases over the last 10 years and saw that fully 84 percent of the cases were either dismissed or nolle'd, I had to wonder if animal cruelty is being taken seriously and if the victim's side of the matter is being adequately represented so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.
Raised Bill 6690 will provide a voluntary advocate for the innocent, voiceless victims of cruelty and abuse to ensure that their issues are being heard and, ultimately, bring perpetrators to justice. After all, the defense in these cases have paid professionals who are ceaselessly working on their behalf to exonerate them so we believe that these advocates will, at least, help bring forward the other side of the case and level the playing field that way justice can truly be served. Therefore, I urge you to support 6690.
REP. G. FOX: Well, thank you for your testimony.
Are there questions?
Well, thank you very much.
KATHLEEN SULLIVAN: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Next is Annie Hornish followed by Tom Carrino.
ANNIE HORNISH: Hi, good afternoon. My name is Annie Hornish. Dear, Co-Chair Fox and honorable Members of the Judiciary Committee, on behalf of the Connecticut supporters of The Humane Society of the United States, I submit -- I am submitting testimony in support of HB 6690, which would establish a process for appointing an advocate to investigate and advocate for the welfare or custody of an animal that is the subject of a criminal court proceeding.
Research has established that there are strong links between violent behaviors toward humans and violent behaviors toward animals. Animal abuse is a crime of violence that affects not only animals but also children, families and communities. We actively encourage law enforcement agencies to take violence toward animals seriously and to seek appropriate severe penalties for people who are responsible for causing animals to suffer. HB 6690 will help to facilitate animal cruelty prosecutions by ensuring appropriate representation for the victims.
The need for HB 6690 is illustrated in a 2011 report by the -- by OLR, a report number 0405, which describes the procedural outcome of the animal cruelty offenses from 2002 through November 7, 2011. There were 3,292 cases looked at. And in Table 1 you'll see that 51 percent of offenses were nolle'd; 33.5 percent dismissed; .2 resulted in the findings of not guilty; and 15 percent resulted in guilty findings.
Animals, I believe, deserve better than this. People want animal cruelty to be prosecuted. In a 2006 survey of 1,000 households, 85 percent thought it important or very important to protect animals from cruelty. Also, I was contacted by a West Haven High School teacher this morning, Regina Milano, she's going to be submitting testimony, a petition, she has 53 signatures collected so far from West Haven High School students and those will be posted or sent to the Judiciary Committee.
The link -- I included the link between animal abuse and domestic violence and criminal violence, I've got numerous citations in my testimony, which I'll leave you to peruse. The recognition of this link between human and animal violence is reflected in that more than a dozen states, including Connecticut, have cross reporting laws. At least two dozen states have laws, including Connecticut, that allow courts to include pets in protection orders in domestic violence situations. And at least two dozen states, including Connecticut, have counseling provisions in their animal cruelty laws.
The mission of the Humane Society of the United States is to create a humane and sustainable world for all animal, a world that will also benefit people. And finally, we believe that teaching humans to behave with kindness and respect towards animals will help build a more humane and better functioning civil society. Thank you for your time.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you. Are there questions?
SENATOR KISSEL: I just want to say thank you, Annie, for appearing. It's always great to see a constituent, and you are still working hard on behalf of animal -- animals and their rights. And I think that you've -- you struck a chord and the advocates have struck a chord when they've drawn the link between the bad behavior at the outset and terrible consequences years down the road. And so thank you for taking the time and the patience to come here today.
ANNIE HORNISH: Thank you, Senator.
REP. G. FOX: Representative Buck-Taylor.
REP. BUCK-TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
ANNIE HORNISH: Hi.
REP. BUCK-TAYLOR: Thanks for appearing here today. I really appreciate you coming here and supporting this -- this issue of animal abuse.
I do have a question. On the cases where the matters were either nolle'd or dismissed, do you have any data to show one way or the other as to whether or not there are any conditions that had to be obeyed by the person before the dismissal or the nolle was granted? I know in some criminal cases, not having to do with animals, but they might require therapy or they might require certain other things be completed before they will either consider nolle'g or dismissing the case so I am curious as to whether or not there is any data.
ANNIE HORNISH: I have the report right here. I'd have to read through it quickly to see if it's included in that. I can send you the report if you would like, the OLR report.
REP. BUCK-TAYLOR: If you would. Thank you.
ANNIE HORNISH: I will. I will. Thank you.
REP. BUCK-TAYLOR: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Are there other questions?
I'd like to co' Senator Kissel's comments. You've always been a strong advocate for animals and for -- together with Diana Urban, you've really brought this to our attention and the connection between later violence is something that is really -- is resonating with a lot of people today so thank you.
ANNIE HORNISH: Great. Thank you very much for your time.
REP. G. FOX: Tom Carrino.
Chief Marc Montminy.
CHIEF MARC MONTMINY: Good afternoon.
REP. G. FOX: Good afternoon.
CHIEF MARC MONTMINY: Senator Coleman, Representative Fox and members of the Judiciary Committee, my name is Chief Marc Montminy of the Manchester Police Department. I've come today with superintendent of schools, Dr. Richard Kisiel -- who unfortunately couldn't be with us due to a death in the family -- he asked me to apologize -- to discuss the importance of Bill 6682, AN ACT CONCERNING COLLABORATION BETWEEN BOARDS OF EDUCATION AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL.
This bill has two important sections relating to interaction of law enforcement. The first is a requirement that school systems adopt policy or enter into a memorandum of understanding with law enforcement that provides ground rules for the interaction between students, staff, and officers. Additionally, the bill calls for the use of a graduated response model for discipline. Manchester instituted just such a memorandum of understanding after the 2010-2011 school year when school-based arrests at the high school alone reached 137. Clearly, over the course of years, the role of the school resource officer has changed from mentor, advocate and trusted adult to school disciplinarian.
What followed was a written agreement with the school system that outlined the core principles that both agencies agreed to. School discipline and student misconduct are best addressed by school staff through progressive classroom intervention. Police should only be involved in incidents of misbehavior when the severity of the incident is such that students or staff are at risk of physical harm. Police intervention should be accomplished in the least disruptive manner to the school population. The school system will develop diversionary systems necessary for a graduated response model. And all parties agree to participate in an ongoing collaborative team to address issues moving forward.
The school year that followed saw a dramatic reduction in school-based arrests. The high school went from 137 arrests to 30, a 78 percent reduction, while expulsions decreased 69 percent. I truly believe that this was the result of a coordinated effort on the part of all the stakeholders.
This brings me to the second law enforcement concern in this bill. During the course of working together, I came to realize the need to maintain accurate records on school-based arrests and intervention attempts. In order to provide the best service to the student, information must be shared amongst disciplines. Consider that the bill calls for reporting of arrest information disaggregated by factors, such as special needs. This is information that no one agency has agency has. For example, the police keep records on arrests that school systems do not have access to and police have no information on which students have special educational needs.
At this time, I am not aware of any statutory authority that allows us to share this information. Juvenile arrest records and school discipline records are highly confidential and only releasable under certain circumstances. Care should be taken to make sure this bill authorizes agencies to share the data that the Legislature requires under section 1c.
In closing, my experience has been that the partnership amongst the school system, law enforcement, and the community agencies is the most powerful agent of change I have ever witnessed. It has brought about a completely different atmosphere in Manchester, and I'm confident that other communities with school resource officers can benefit from a similar partnership. I support the legislation and thank you for your time. And I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
REP. G. FOX: Well, thank you, Chief.
Are there questions?
REP. ALBIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Chief, for your testimony today.
CHIEF MARC MONTMINY: Thank you.
REP. ALBIS: I'm curious to know what kind of crimes were being committed prior to the MOU and following the MOU by -- by these students that were leading to such arrests?
CHIEF MARC MONTMINY: The single most overwhelming crime was breach of peace, which is, as you probably know, a broad category that encompasses violent tumultuous behavior. I would say 75 to 85 percent of the crimes involved violence of some sort, usually kids fighting with each other, disobeying a teacher to the point where they're asked to -- to leave the room or something like that and they refuse and a police officer is summoned to remove them, those types of things. But, by and large, it's almost always breach of peace or assault.
REP. ALBIS: And that's -- you're seeing that, as well, after the -- the reduction in arrests following the MOU?
CHIEF MARC MONTMINY: Percentagewise, it's the same, yes, although, as you can see, it's been dramatically reduced.
REP. ALBIS: Okay, thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you.
Are there other questions?
Well, Chief, thank you. It is helpful to hear from law enforcement when they've actually done this and how it's worked because for some, it's new and it's -- I'm sure you've heard from other departments and chiefs throughout the state that they may have some concerns about being restricted in some way, but you have found -- and I know that the chief in Bridgeport have found this to be something that's a very positive experience in their role as school resource officers. So, it's helpful to us to hear from you.
CHIEF MARC MONTMINY: Thank you so much.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you.
JERRY MASTRANGELO: Hello. Good afternoon.
REP. G. FOX: Good afternoon.
JERRY MASTRANGELO: My name is Jerry Mastrangelo, and I reside in East Haven, Connecticut. I'm a member of the National Parents Organization with over 50,000 members across the country. I've been a business owner in Connecticut for the past 34 years and, currently, have 130 employees. I am here today in support of Raised Bill Number 6685 on shared parenting.
The story I'm about to share with you involves parental alienation and a broken Family Court system that has received a tremendous amount of media attention and more support than almost any other family case in Connecticut. Although my story is almost over, I hope that the changes made will prevent this from happening to other families. This is about my fight to protect my children's right to love and be loved by both parents.
My story began on July 1, 1999, when I became the proud father of triplets, who were born premature weighing less than 2 pounds. Unfortunately, my marriage ended in December of 2007. However, I was awarded joint legal physical custody of my children with approximately 40 percent of parenting time. For nearly 3 years, I enjoyed picking up my children from school, helping them with their homework, spending quality time together, going to church, going on vacations, visiting grandparents and extended family, celebrating birthdays and holidays together, as well, as watching my children grow up.
In October 2010, this all changed. For the past two and a half years, my children have not had me in their lives. Not only have my children been alienated from me but also from my entire family as well. My children have been taught to hate me, to ignore me, to hang up on me, to call me names I can't even repeat. This is what happens in parental alienation. One parent will brainwash and manipulate a child into believing the other parent is all bad, leading to the total rejection of that parent. The leading experts in the country agree that this is a form of child abuse and neglect.
In July 2011, I had no other choice than to turn to the New Haven Family Court for help. In doing so, I filed six motions in order to get contempt issues heard, existing court orders modified -- enforced and modified. I learned very quickly that the Family Court was not on my side. I've spent over $150,000, and soon I learned that there was no sense of urgency, which is very important when dealing with alienation. I learned that there's a lack of education as it relates to alienation. I learned about all the games that are played on the third floor of the New Haven Court -- and I'm not saying that disrespectfully. The stall tactics and delays which only benefit the best interest of the attorneys and their wallets, not the best interest of the children. I learned what it means to have a court-appointed guardian ad litem at $300 per hour, as well as $300 per hour for an AMC. I learned how a GAL can be unethical, biased and completely negligent in carrying out their duties to protect the best interests of a child. Connecticut GALs have no accountability and have the luxury of full immunity.
I learned how it felt for an AMC to ask me in court to pull out my wallet while on the stand to see what credit cards I have, what the limits were and as well as what the balances were. I also learned how a parent could easily become emotionally and financially bankrupt in order to get court orders enforced so they can be a part of their children's lives.
Connecticut family laws need to change. Children need both parents in their lives, in the absence of abuse and neglect. Children need shared parenting and parents need incentives to follow court orders and sanctions when they don't. Parental alienation cases need to be heard quickly and acted upon immediately. Time works against the alienated child and parent in these cases.
In many other states, judges who identify parental alienation will remove the child from the abusive and neglectful parent. This is no different than cases involving sexual and physical abuse. The child is immediately removed.
I am testifying today on behalf of hundreds of families that have been destroyed due to our broken Family Court system. Family laws need to change. Safeguards need to be put in places so that GALs perform their duties according to Connecticut statute. Please support Raised Bills 6685, 6688 and 1155. Thank you for your time.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you, Mr. Mastrangelo.
Are there questions or comments?
REP. ALBIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Jerry, good to see you today. Thank you so much for coming up to testify.
JERRY MASTRANGELO: Thank you.
REP. ALBIS: Now you were here for -- for Senator Fasano's testimony. Correct?
JERRY MASTRANGELO: Yes, I was.
REP. ALBIS: How -- how would you feel about his proposal to establish a task force to look into some of these issues with a little more scrutiny?
JERRY MASTRANGELO: I think it would be a great start because, again, right now, we've seen -- and I'm aware of literally dozens and dozens of cases, and we all have the same theme. And when we're talking about GALs, for instance, the thing that I never quite understood is if they're not acting in the capacity of an attorney, then why should they be charging attorney prices? It just simply doesn't make sense. And when a parent has to walk away from your children because of the financial stress that is being put on that family, it is not fair for that -- for that parent to have to decide between the financial disaster that he or she may face and being a part of their children's lives and having the children be a part of their lives. So I do agree that this task force will be is -- and I would hope that the task force is not only made up of attorneys that there can be some laypeople and -- and -- and people involved that can have some input.
REP. ALBIS: Thank you for that, and I do thank you for coming to me with your story and -- and so I can hear your point of view.
This is an issue that I -- I haven't been familiar with, and I think you -- you made the point to me a -- a few weeks ago that it's -- it's something where if you're not -- if you haven't gone through the system, it's hard to understand it. So it's been a huge help to me to -- to try to wrap my head around these issues for you to -- to explain to me and for you to come testify here today so thank for --
JERRY MASTRANGELO: Thank you, Representative Albis.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you for your testimony today.
JERRY MASTRANGELO: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Sarah Esty.
SARAH ESTY: Hello.
REP. G. FOX: Hello.
SARAH ESTY: I'm Sarah Esty, and I'm here on behalf of Connecticut Voices for Children to speak in favor of Bill 6682, AN ACT CONCERNING COLLABORATION BETWEEN BOARDS OF EDUCATION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL.
You should have my written testimony so I will not try to read it for you. I, actually, wanted to address some of the questions that I've heard raised previously, particularly, those related to data.
So as you'll see in the bill, one of the main provisions in the bill is requiring better data collection and centralized reporting of that data. And one of the big challenges right now is that we don't have good data because it isn't collected in a way that makes it easy to access and easy to break down by relevant categories.
That means that we have done research at Voices with the data that there is and so to give you a ballpark figure for the 2010/2011 school year, there were approximately 3,200 incidents of arrest of children in schools. And we have broken down that data by some of the relevant categories where, nationally, we see disproportionate affects on minority students and students with disabilities and some other groups. And so we see similar disproportionality in the Connecticut data.
So, in particular, in Connecticut schools, black children were four times more likely to be arrested than white children; Hispanic children were three times more likely to be arrested than white children; boys were twice as likely to be arrested as girls; special education students were more than twice as likely to be arrested than regular education students. And children in the state's poorest districts -- so Districts Reference Group I, for those of you familiar with those designations -- were 9.4 times more likely to be arrested than children in the wealthiest districts.
And in every single District Referenced Group and in the vast majority of towns, we see these racial and disability disproportionate arrest rates. So while the arrest number is maybe smaller in some districts, we often still see problematic disproportionality, nonetheless.
So I would really encourage you to pass this bill and the other question that I had seen that I wanted to address, was a question about mental health utilization. One of the pieces of this graduated response model that's part of the memorandum of agreement between the schools and the police includes appropriate referrals to mental health services in place of arrest.
And in some of the communities, they have seen really dramatic increases in the use of the emergency mobile psychiatric services as an alternative to arresting students in times of mental health crisis. And so I think that's a good indication of the fact that when people are aware of the mental health resources, they use those appropriately instead.
REP. G. FOX: Good timing and thank you. And thanks for your testimony on this it's helpful to the committee members.
Are there questions?
Well, you heard the chiefs who testified earlier and they -- they also were supportive --
SARAH ESTY: Uh-huh.
REP. G. FOX: And some of this -- the data gathering that's proposed in the bill, they did have some not -- they had some questions as to whether or not that -- that some of the information is legally available. And I think that is something we're going to need to clarify if that -- that part of the bill's going to continue on because it is important to have -- to be able to evaluate the work you're doing. However, there's also certain things that are not disclosed for a reason. So we'll have to look -- we'll have to continue to work on that but thank you very much for your testimony.
SARAH ESTY: And we have a report that should be coming out in the next couple of weeks on this topic so I'll make sure everybody gets a copy of that.
REP. G. FOX: Okay. And not to rush your report but just so you know, our -- our deadline is April 19th to vote the bills out so if you --
SARAH ESTY: I understand.
REP. G. FOX: -- So whenever you get us that it'd be terrific so thank you.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: I hope the clock's not running already.
REP. G. FOX: Don't worry, now --
Good to see you, Attorney Rutkin.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Good afternoon, Representative Fox, Senator Kissel.
So I'm Arnold Rutkin. I practice law in the Law Firm of Rutkin, Oldham & Griffin. I grew up in Bridgeport. I went through Legal Aid as a young lawyer, and you can see I'm not young anymore.
I went through the pain last year of 55 -- 5509. It -- it was a difficult legislative session, and I was glad to see this year, Mr. Fox, that you took a different tack and helped, at least, spurn a dialogue, which I understand you -- you were responsible for not the substance just the fact that people got together to talk. And I listened to Representative Baram or Senator --
REP. G. FOX: Representative Baram.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: -- Representative Baram and, of course, Judge Solomon. I'm not going to say everything I was going to say because Judge Solomon was eloquent, to say the least. I will say some things but the fact that there was a committee made up of Judge Solomon, Retired Justice McLachlan, Judge Bozzuto, Representatives Baram and Klarides, and I know that they invited many people to talk to and -- and 6688 is the bill that they believe is the consensus.
And the -- and I'm here on behalf of the Family Law Section. I should have told you that. Kay Haakonsen is not able to be here and so I'm here in her place. My -- my printed remarks are approved by her and it had on the top that I'm speaking in her place.
The Family Law Section overwhelmingly supports 6688. We agree that it's time after 40 years -- this is the 40th anniversary of no-fault to go through the statutes in the way that is set forth in section 5 of 6688 in the legislative investigation of this committee.
As we are -- I don't want to go through the detail of that but everything -- everything in that bill we -- we may not agree with every little thing, but we think it's so important that we support it as is. We're not looking for any changes because of the study committee. We think it's a great idea, the legislative study committee.
With regard to 1155, on the other hand, we have a totally different view and share the view, actually, of Judge Solomon, who I've, obviously, have never discussed that the practices of this way as a judge. And we -- we are -- you know, we have an expression in -- among lawyers -- I don't know if you have it everywhere but I know all of you aren't lawyers but if -- if it quacks like a duck and it flies like a duck, it's a duck. There are people who will speaking to you today who are going to claim that 1155 does -- is not -- is not guidelines, alimony guidelines. They are guidelines. Judge Solomon referred to them as guidelines and for all the reasons that he said. The percentages that they're given you, 40 percent, 30 percent, 20 percent, a million dollar cap are all made up. They're guesses. They have no scientific data for that, no sociological studies for that, none.
Unlike the child support guidelines, you know, there's a guidelines committee and my -- my partner David Griffin is actually on that committee. I can tell you how many hours they spend trying to -- to do that. And the same kind of a thing can be done for alimony guidelines if somebody really wants -- wants that.
Let me tell you, also, that I'm -- I'm chairman of a national committee for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers on alimony reform. And as the chairman, I sent out to every state where there's a chapter and that's most of the country, a questionnaire as to whether they have guidelines and what they think of them and how they're working and I -- I have it here.
If you do the study in 6688, I surely will supply my research for that and many, many articles. And what I can tell you is, as Judge Solomon said, there are only three states that have guidelines. New York right now has them but only for pendent lite, temporary alimony. And according to one of the fellows in the Connecticut chapter, who also practices in New York, they don't work there, they're in chaos there and they don't know what -- how to manage them.
The same is true for Massachusetts. I have many colleagues in Massachusetts who -- who had to have, they thought, guidelines because the laws there were so uneven and different. So they -- and there they're telling me that the judges are saying that they'll take eight years, at least, if it works to figure it out. They are in chaos. And the only other state that I know of that is close to or has one is Illinois in place and that's it.
So some of the speakers are going to tell you that there's a big rush to have guidelines in the United States. That simply is not true.
REP. G. FOX: Attorney Rutkin, maybe I can ask you a question since --
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Sure.
REP. G. FOX: -- I know the bell didn't go off and there are those who will say that Massachusetts -- and that was, I believe, the model -- at least the testimony from last year, that Massachusetts had enacted these guidelines and if the bill, as I understand it that was proposed, was similar to the Massachusetts bill at least in many -- but -- that as I understand maybe you would disagree with that --
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Last year's bill.
REP. G. FOX: Yes, last year's bill. And you -- you are an experienced family practitioner, as I know there's others here as well, but you're somebody who does talk to lawyers in other states and you're -- you're saying now that the Massachusetts law has been in place for some time, not that long, but for some time that they're saying that it's at least the people you're talking to are having questions about it?
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Yes.
REP. G. FOX: Okay. And maybe can articulate somewhat what -- what some of the problems that they're running into have been, and I'm sure other people have an opportunity later to speak about some of the good things that they see, good things there, but you're here. You're testifying if you have a chance maybe you can talk about why -- why they say it's not working.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Well, honestly, I can't -- other than the -- in fact, I have that -- if you give me a second to look for it.
REP. G. FOX: Sure.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: I'll read you verbatim what the lawyer who corresponded from Massachusetts said. Well, it's a new law but not known how it will work, not clear if it's -- just going to apply to postjudgment in cases. Just thinking it will be six to eight years before Appellate Law can figure it out.
Massachusetts needed reform because they were a hodgepodge of laws they had there but what they got was not welcomed with open arms by anyone, judges and lawyers. So they are not happy with them but they got them.
REP. G. FOX: Uh-huh.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: -- That -- that's the answer. I'm reading right off --
REP. G. FOX: Okay. I'm sure others might say different but I think that -- that is what you're hearing and I'm that that's what you're hearing from attorneys that you've -- you -- you know.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: The -- the other thing if I might -- I wanted to point out that the 6688 was -- is supported by every responsible family law related group in the state, the -- the Permanent Commission on Women, the domestic violence groups, the family law section, the academy, every major group that you know of in the family law supports it.
On the other hand, every major group opposes 1155. I will tell you that the four people, two of whom are going to be testifying before you who drafted it, didn't think it was a good idea apparently to come to us and to ask us for our ideas. I, specifically, invited them. I'm chairman of the local group concerning alimony reform. They wouldn't -- the didn't come. And they didn't come because they knew that we were opposed to alimony guidelines. And these guidelines are not -- life is not cookie cutter, as you know, and -- and guidelines are cookie cutter, at least, without any investigation whatsoever.
We think -- what the legislature should do is have a consensus through the legislative study commission, and I know I'm -- I'm more than out of time. I do have a few comments about the presumption of shared custody bill, if I might.
REP. G. FOX: Actually, I would be interested to hear what your thoughts are on that and we're in the question and answer period so the time's kind of --
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Oh, good.
REP. G. FOX: Well, it doesn't mean -- within limits but before you --
Do any members have questions of Attorney Rutkin because I may have a couple but anyone has any questions first?
Okay. Well, I do on the presumption of shared custody. I know we spoke about this in the hallway, and I asked you if you had a chance to look at it and to see what your -- what your thoughts were because I know there are some who are very -- obviously, you've heard from some of the people here who are -- who have had some really difficult situations in our courts. And they are very much in favor of it. I think, I don't know if you were here when Senator Fasano began the meeting --
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Yes.
REP. G. FOX: -- and he discussed not only that bill but also the GAL system and attorneys for minor children and also it's not an easy -- it's not an easy process. It's not one that we can necessarily answer quickly. And it's one that requires some experience and expertise.
And I did ask you if you had a chance to look at that bill?
ARNOLD RUTKIN: I did.
REP. G. FOX: And I'm interested to hear what your thoughts are so.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: You know I was struck when I was listening to Senator Fasano and some of the other people who've been testifying here today that people on your committee hear some of the terrible stories that I hear in my office. You know, we -- we hear a lot of the same things.
With regard to the GAL/AMC issue, speaking for myself only because I'm not here to talk for the Family Law section in that regard, but I feel confident that if your committee sought fit to have a study commission with regard to what's going on in these custody cases that we would gladly participate.
I can tell you I actually have little experience in it having gone through one myself, a custody case. I was -- it was a difficult one, and I paid alimony in my life time. I'm not embarrassed to say so. I'm proud to say so. And the -- the issue and I took the GAL/AMC training. I don't do that kind of work much but I wanted to see what it was like, and I do -- I do sometimes. And I -- I do think that there are improvements that can be made. I think the regional family trial docket we have is a great thing. It's a -- it's a signature court for the country. It's not for the world, but I do think that there could be improvement. Some of the complaints that I heard are -- are with justification, and I think a study commission to discuss some of that would be useful.
With regard to the -- the bill, the shared custody bill, I was troubled by it only in that it's just another vague term, "shared custody." It is, by the way, in the statute but parts two and three are already in place. We already have virtually mandated parenting plans and there's already a civil penalty. It's called contempt, civil contempt, if you do something like that. So I don't think this bill adds anything, but by the same token, if you are thinking of setting up a overall commission including the AMC/GAL issue that would be a good thing to talk about.
REP. G. FOX: Can I ask you this in -- in your practice over recent -- the last decade or so, have you seen more situations where the parents would enter into a shared parenting plan just given that so many times both parents are working, their schedules are --
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Absolutely.
REP. G. FOX: I mean -- and -- and my -- I always understand the big issue. One of the issues with the shared parenting plan is that if it's really a equal time or very close to equal time they're -- the court can then stay not enter a support order, a child support order, is that your experience or not so much?
ARNOLD RUTKIN: They're other factors that go into it --
REP. G. FOX: Yeah. Okay.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: -- under the child support guidelines.
REP. G. FOX: That's only one of the factors.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Shared custody does not mean equal.
REP. G. FOX: Well, I know -- I think -- I know shared custody -- well, shared custody, then there's shared parenting plans. I always think shared parenting plans not -- not equal 50/50 but closer more -- more so than the every other weekend type plan. I don't know.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: And hint of that is --
REP. G. FOX: Well, I'm interested how would you define it that's what I'm saying.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Well, years ago, and I can't remember how many there were bills every year on presumption of joint custody and that didn't go anywhere. It started in California, and we tried it here and but I -- I would say that the default position for most people and for the court is shared custody. It may not be 50/50.
I -- I wrote a paper many years ago called, "Continued Custody," and I was trying to promote the idea that people should continue to do, in divorce, what they did when they were married, rather than making the kids, like property, you know, something that they can gain control of.
I think the default for judges in this state is to share custody, but it may not be 50/50. And if I had a -- a suggestion, it would be for people to realize that kids get older and their needs change because you agree to something when they're five and three, it's not probably going to be relevant to when they're eleven and nine.
And that's one of the issues people get boxed into a permanent parenting plan and they unfortunately are sold on the idea that it can change but really it doesn't.
REP. G. FOX: Okay. Well -- well, thank you.
I don't know if there's any questions.
REP. ADINOLFI: Thank you.
You just brought something to mind. I just received a letter about two days ago from somebody that has shared custody. And what's happening that every time he goes to pick up the children, for the last two years, his wife is never there with children -- his ex-wife is never there with the children. He never gets them. And when he goes to the courts and tries to complain, nothing ever happens.
In other words, if I say the shared custody has to happen, but they don't enforce it. I don't know if you run into that.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Well, you hear stories about that, Representative Adinolfi, but the problem is that the stories you hear may not be the full story but has that ever happened? Yeah, I think there are times that judges don't enforce things as quickly as they ought to but, generally speaking, I -- I think that the courts are very mindful of children's rights and that they have a right to two parents and generally support the parenting plan.
And then we have the -- the family social workers in the system who are terrific and -- and often are a big help. And it never -- most of the time, you know, there's probably 14,000 divorces a year in Connecticut. I don't exactly know the number with lots of children. Most of the time it works fine, but it -- it's only the ones you hear about that don't work, unfortunately.
And -- and I agree with you, though. If there's a court order, it should be supported and that person should be seeing the kids. And I have seen if it happened to be woman who you were talking about withholding the kids, I think you were, I've seen judges hold women in contempt for failure to do that and have sanctions against them. I've seen it with my own eyes.
REP. ADINOLFI: I'll talk to him again.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Sure.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you very much for your testimony.
ARNOLD RUTKIN: Thank you.
By the way, thank you so much for all your hard work on the gun bill. You made us all very, very, very, proud.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you.
We're getting ready to move on with that one.
A VOICE: (Inaudible.)
REP. G. FOX: All right back to the public hearing agenda.
Peter Szymonik -- Szymonik.
Good afternoon, sir.
PETER SZYMONIK: Good afternoon.
REP. G. FOX: Hi.
PETER SZYMONIK: Good afternoon. My name is Peter Szymonik, and I live in Berlin, Connecticut. I spent most of my career working in or for the legal industry itself. I worked for six years at the same law firm that produced Senator Blumenthal, Justice Bright, Supreme Court Justice McLachlan, and Chief State Justice Rogers. And one of the hallmarks of the law firm we work for is we place a strong emphasis on ethics.
I'm an expert in legal operations, business process improvement, and legal spend management. I currently work as an executive at a major healthcare company where mental health issues are a big deal. I'm a Polish immigrant whose family came to this country, worked very hard and placed family and education first, and I'm the father of two wonderful young boys, one with special needs.
I'm here today in support of bill 6685, 6688 and 1155 because I and my family have suffered tremendously from the inherent dysfunction in our state's family court system. Like many others, I have been financially and otherwise devastated solely to protect the best interest of my sons and my ability to be an equal parenting father for them.
I'm speaking here today on behalf of many family law attorneys that I've come to know who are also struggling and quitting the practice of family law, given their dismay of what's happening in our state's family courts and what it's become. In devastation, they've seen it cause for countless parents, children and families.
I'm here today because I know the answer to Senator Doyle's question of why there's been an explosion of pro se litigants in our family courts and why the waits for hearing times have approached four to five months. The crisis in our state family court mirrors what it is also happening in New York, New Jersey, Maine and Ohio, other states where family court systems been allowed to operate with impunity in an ineffective manner and without any system of checks and balances.
Most notably how the court system engages yet does not monitor or oversee the actions of performance of AMCs, GALs and other court-appointed experts and as judges routinely outsourced the judicial authority to them. Independent contractors are allowed to bill parents extraordinary sums of money for services they do not perform, perform poorly or are biased to whichever party pays them more and is basic human, civil, parental rights are trampled, as well as internationally recognized rights of a child.
As one example of the dysfunction, I would ask if any of the panel members believe that forcing a parent to liquidate a child's college funds under the threat of imprisonment. Funds which took years to amass and funneling the money to an unethical AMC or GAL represents an action in the best interest of a child. This happened to me, my family, and my sons. This happens in our family court system each and every day.
Judges also require that AMCs and GALs be paid ahead of child support. Does this make any sense given that most AMCs and GALs almost never meet with the children they're assigned to represent. Imagine the impact this has on the fate of the parents, citizens, taxpayers have in our state judiciary to do the right thing and to act in a proper, ethical and moral manner. Imagine if all the money that you worked for years to save for your children was taken from you in an instant in this manner.
Yet, not every state has this issue or problem. With a notable difference that their AMCs and GALs are monitored and do not report to the Judiciary. With a notable exception that in those states the courts discretion has been moderated and shared parenting is a standard and a norm, rather than something which divorced parents are forced to fight for to the point of being permanently financially devastated, which is the norm in the State of Connecticut.
Our state must do far better in the actual best interest of children, parents, grandparents and families. Our state must do far better for citizens and taxpayers.
Bill 6685 moves our state one step in the right direction and mirrors what is already law in Arizona and is being considered in only six other states.
What's missing in bill 6685, which I understand we just added, is a further clause which would further reinforce its intent by mandating sanctions against parents who knowingly make false representations to the court as part of any parent-related motion.
Bill 6685 must be passed because it represents a start of modernizing our state's approach to family law in a manner that is actually in the best interest of children and families, but it's just a start.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you, sir.
Thank you for your testimony today.
Are there questions?
I don't see any, but you did submit written testimony, as well I saw that --
PETER SZYMONIK: I did, yes.
REP. G. FOX: Well, thank you.
PETER SZYMONIK: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you very much.
STEPHEN REPKA: Good afternoon.
REP. G. FOX: Good afternoon.
STEPHEN REPKA: My greatest fear was having to speak in front of nobody. I'm glad you're still here.
I want to first thank the committee to allow us to speak on Raised Bill 6685. I apologize from the start if you've heard the same story all day. Unfortunately, all of our stories have a common thread. I'm very appreciative that this subject is getting its proper public attention. I've lived it firsthand for -- for the past six years. I completely understand that we all have our issues and listening to another person problems is not on anyone's top ten list.
I'm here today to voice my children -- to be the voice of my children who have not had a voice in our current legal system. I recently wrote the guardian ad litem in our case to update on her on the proposed bills. Unlike others that may testify today, I have had a positive experience with my lawyer, GAL and family court judge.
The issue was that they all did not have a single law to counteract my ex-wife's destructive behavior. I sit in front of you, a Connecticut resident that has exhausted our current legal system.
To quote my GAL from a email she sent me on a February 27, 2013: I appreciate your positive regard, especially given how difficult of time you've had with the court process and with Jill and the girls. I feel very strongly about parental alienation syndrome and the corrosive effects it has on our families, especially the kids, sadly your girls, which will have so much to overcome because of Jill's damaging and destructive behavior.
I went -- personally, I went to court in 2011. I thought -- I thought it would be more powerful to use the words of the judge that ruled in my case. Well, before Bill 6685 was a thought, Judge Mark Taylor was able to decipher the true issues in my case. However, he was unable to help my family, as he did not have a law to cite. I'd like to select -- cite selected quotes I select -- I gave you my full transcript on this.
I took -- I quote, all I've heard here today suggests that you, sir, have done everything imaginable to bring the reconciliation between you and your children. The question is always how to unlock the problem. This is a court of law. I've often commented that in Family Court it seems to be an intersection between social sciences, such as psychology and sociology and the law. And the question is always where the lines to be drawn exercising judicial authority. I often reflect on whether or not, at times, the use of judicial authority in what would otherwise be a personal matter is helpful or effective.
Some very competent psychologists and other family therapists have been continuously involved in this family's life since 2007. I also have the impression that Mr. Repka is unforgiving; however, I'm not sure the degree which that affects Jill's ability to provide an example to her daughters as how the intersection is to occur. She's the person they look to understand how the interaction, perhaps, should be between her and her family -- her father and it seems that a very, very difficult one for her to constructively engage in.
So I, again, have -- you have my whole testimony and my testimony on that.
Unfortunately, there's just been no law that's been able -- no legal system that's been able to help us with -- with -- with what's happened in here with the parental alienation.
REP. G. FOX: Well, thank you.
And I know you -- you referenced the earlier testimonies. We're also beginning to hear from a number of people today.
And are there questions at all?
No, I don't see any but thank you very much --
STEPHEN REPKA: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: And -- Sandra Staub.
SANDRA STAUB: Good afternoon.
Representative Fox, distinguish members of the committee -- Judiciary Committee, I'm Sandra Staub, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. And I'm here to testify in favor of House Bill 6682, AN ACT CONCERNING COLLABORATION BETWEEN BOARDS OF EDUCATION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL.
The ACLU of Connecticut joins with the previous two chiefs who testified, and I take great pleasure in saying that, in fully supporting this bill as a necessary step towards juvenile justice --
REP. G. FOX: There's always a first. Right.
SANDRA STAUB: It's a second, I was here last week --
REP. G. FOX: Okay.
SANDRA STAUB: -- On the racial profiling bill. We agreed, as well, so I want to make a record of that.
REP. G. FOX: That's right.
SANDRA STAUB: And my testimony -- our testimony is submitted in writing, but the purpose of submitting the testimony in support of this legislation when you have such great organizations, like Voices and Center for Children Advocacy and the Juvenile Justice Alliances and the chiefs supporting it, is it just gives some history on this issue that I think we can give, which is our 2008 report that we did a study of Hartford, West Hartford and East Hartford. And the experience there with data collection and availability of data and -- and the relationship between school resource officers and the amounts of arrests. And there I cite that there was a -- in our study that not only did the rates of arrest increase with unregulated school resource officers or -- school resource officers without the necessary guidelines but that there was a very troubling, you know, core -- disproportionality that -- that Sarah Esty talked about, impact on people -- of students of color. And then you have that combined with the research we cite in our report about the school-to-prison pipeline, which is to say that arrests of juveniles in, you know, contributes to their arrest as adults and their incarceration as adults. And so given the good experience in Bridgeport and the good experience in Manchester that is cited in the testimony of the Center for Children Advocacy, it seems to me that is the existence of -- of an MOU for school resource officers is necessary to start bringing down those arrest numbers and start bringing down that disproportionate effect on students of color.
And so that's our reason for supporting the -- the -- the bill and the current research by these other organizations underscores the importance of it.
Also, we did a -- a survey of the web site of all the school districts across the state and depending on how you count, there are 164 school districts or, you know, school -- school departments and 66 of them, by our count, have school resource officers. And the testimony that you've had today shows that the few towns that have followed this proposed bill guideline have lowered the arrests by huge amounts. And so if you multiply that by 60, you're going to be lowering that arrest data considerably so I urge you to pass the bill.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you.
And are there questions?
REP. O'DEA: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Do you know if New Canaan is part -- or Wilton a part of those that follow that --
SANDRA STAUB: Well, we don't have the data on whether they follow an MOU. We have the data on whether they have school resource officers.
REP. O'DEA: I know that they do. I was just wondering if they follow the MOU. I don't know --
SANDRA STAUB: Yeah, that's not publicly available on the -- the web sites that we searched. We were only able to -- to confirm whether or not there was a school resource officer. And you know, they're I think six cities that have been, you know, part of the testimony today from different organizations with a great and dramatic results in lowering arrests. I haven't heard of other cities and towns, but there is a model, you know, that the juvenile Justice Alliance has put together for -- for them to take up. This bill would just, you know, mandate that they take it up and improve the situation.
REP. O'DEA: Thank you very much.
Thank you Mr. Chair.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you.
Are there other questions or comments?
SANDRA STAUB: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Timothy -- Timothy Gelling.
TIMOTHY GELLING: Good afternoon.
REP. G. FOX: Good afternoon.
TIMOTHY GELLING: Thank you for the time today. My name is Timothy Gelling. I'm the father of two children: Victoria, age 15; and Timothy Liam, age 12. I'm here today in support of Bill 1155, Bill 6688 and Bill 6685 on shared custody.
I'd like to echo the points made Mr. Mastrangelo and others. They stated so eloquently.
My case started in July of 2005, when I first heard -- my threats of full custody psychological evaluations, guardian ad litems and attorneys for minor children, all foreign to me. Attorneys wielded these terms I never imagined would be part of my life. Now eight years and 235 entries in my case detail later, I am all too familiar with them.
My dissolution took six days of trial and a total of 20 months. I was married for nine years, ordered to pay alimony for seven. I was granted joint custody and -- and generous parenting time.
I met more lawyers, judges, court officers, police officers, family service workers, therapists, forensic psychologists, GALs and DCF workers than I care to remember. My experience is of a system that allows a parent to disregard orders deny and disrupt parenting time, use children as messengers to pick up alimony checks and instruct children to keep secrets and outright lie.
My only recourse to this behavior is motions, paying marshals, waiting weeks and months for dates from a system that does not hold anyone responsible for not showing up or walking out of a courtroom. The -- the idea that contempts are found. It has not been my -- my experience. You know, it's a broken system that has you wait for hours to be heard, sometimes running out of hours in the day to hear you that shuffles you from court to family services to court to hallway, and so on.
Countless times, I have filed motions for contempt and waited for my day in court only to leave with the same agreement I went in with. This cycle repeated over and over in the last eight years. There's no continuity in the system. No one has ever reviewed my case to detect the patterns and question why we we're back, yet, again.
The result of this is that my children have lost out on the love and time they deserve from me, their aunts, uncles, cousins. Eventually, the stress on my children drove them from me. It became easy to turn away from me than endure the pre-imposed visit trauma. I love my children; my children love me. We sang, told stories and laughed and did all the things you're supposed to do in a father-child relationship from eating ice cream to doing homework.
One day, I went to pick up my children from school and they were not there, again. I couldn't reach them, again, and the next week the same thing and the next weekend they never showed up. Ultimately, my daughter, at age 12, told me she didn't want to see my anymore. She didn't love me. My eight-year-old son looked me in the eye, lips quivering about to burst into tears and said he didn't want to see me anymore. They had had enough and, God bless them, they don't deserve the anguish.
They will never get back the time we have lost, the holidays, the birthdays, time spent going to the movies, eating pancakes or doing algebra, laughing and loving their dad. I have not seen my children for two and a half years. Reunification therapy, psych evaluations, supervised visitation, more motions, this is what it would take to regain the love of my children. It breaks my heart. I'm here today and hope that this will not ever happen to any other children.
My case is not unique. I've met many other parents, women and men, who have had the same experiences. It is uncanny how similar the stories are: the tactics, the false allegations, et cetera. These are the norm in our current system. It's too easy to manipulate. As a family court judge said to me, it is a broken system, but it is the only one we have. That is not acceptable.
It's time to stop the abuse of the system and the abuse of children. I believe shared parenting is critically important to children's emotional, mental and physical health. That's every child's right to have the loving care of both parents and that better lives for our children through family court reform is possible.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you and thanks for your testimony this afternoon.
Are there questions?
Well, thank you for being here today.
TIMOTHY GELLING: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Howard Cooper, Sally Oldham -- is it Sally?
Attorney Oldham will be followed by Amy Harrell.
SARAH OLDHAM: Good afternoon, Representative Fox and distinguish members of the committee. I'm here today to testify in support of Raised Bill 66 -- 6688 and in opposition to Raised Bill 1155.
I am president of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The Academy has voted with a -- by a significant majority to support Raised Bill 6688 and oppose Raise Bill 1155. I also address you as an individual matrimonial attorney practicing in Connecticut for the last 25 years. I was chairman of the Connecticut Bar Association Family Law Section, and I'm a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. I'm active in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Matrimony Lawyers, which means I travel extensively talking to matrimonial lawyers both here and abroad.
In general, Connecticut is to be commended for its excellent statutory scheme when it comes to matrimonial matters. Despite statewide budgetary problems and the fact that our courts are inundated with self-represented parties, there is no hard and fast evidence that our statutory scheme is broken or needs to be -- in need a major overhaul.
For those of you not familiar with the intricacies of Connecticut's alimony section, Statute 46b-82, there are a number of statutory criteria the court must consider -- and others have mentioned those -- but they are important to help the parties -- the station of the parties, occupations, employability, desirability of a custodial parent working and obtaining employment.
Our case law establishes that all of these factors must be considered. The Academy and me, personally -- and I personally are opposed to Raised Bill 1155. One of the reasons is that it -- the Academy does not support alimony guidelines and 1155, despite what some may tell you and some coming to testify will tell you, is a statute that sets forth guidelines.
As somebody said earlier one size does not fit all, and that's what these guidelines are. It's important to note that there is no economic data or sociological research to suggest that these guidelines should be implemented.
I think that Bill 6688 which calls for a study is important. There is data out there -- you need to know this. There is data. There's Department of Labor statistics. There are research studies that talk about the affects of divorce on men and on women. There are Law Review articles that have been written that have studied and compared the application of alimony, various alimony statutes, and the few places that have guidelines, how these are working, just to name a few. These -- we need someone to look into this at length.
In my experience, there's no trend nationwide or, indeed, internationally, toward the institution of alimony guidelines. Why would one set of numbers be better than any other? And I'm particularly troubled by the proposal of a cap that a less -- a spouse earning less money should be limited and capped at 40 percent of the combined gross income of a family. Why should -- to me, that's clearly punitive and discriminatory towards the lower earning spouse.
I think that there is serious problems with the guidelines.
There may be some parts of Bill 1155 which are useful, but they should be separated out. The bill is too complex and each piece of it should be addressed as a separate bill.
Raised Bill 6688 is the consensus bill. Judge Solomon spoke at length about how this is a bill that was resulted -- its own committee that you, Representative Fox, put together and we support that, the academy supports the provisions in 6688.
I'd like to speak just briefly to 6685. The -- the issue of parental alienation is a very complex issue. And it's a very -- it's -- it's very heartrending to sit here and listen to the stories that the fathers are telling here. Speaking not on behalf of the Academy but myself, as an attorney -- and you should know I was a school psychologist for 15 years before I became an attorney -- the -- the mental health research on parental alienation is very extensive. There's a whole array of information that's being developed out there, and it's very complex. It's a very complex dynamic, and it develops for -- for a variety of reasons. And I think that the idea of a study group to look into this would be very useful because there's a lot of information out there.
And just as with 6688, doing an investigation into the research, we should be looking to the social sciences and the economic sciences to guide us in what will work for Connecticut's citizens, not just adopting something which is at anybody's best guess of what might work.
Thank you very much.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you. Thanks for your testimony.
Are there any questions?
Well, thanks --
SARAH OLDHAM: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: -- for being here.
Amy Harrell followed by Michael Cassello.
AMY HARRELL: Good afternoon, Senator Coleman, Representative Fox and fellow members of the Judiciary Committee. I'm Amy Harrell. I'm the president of Connecticut Votes for Animals, and I'm also a resident of Vernon, Connecticut.
I'd like to express my support and the support of the organization for House Bill 6690, AN ACT CONCERNING COURT PROCEEDINGS AND THE PROTECTION OF ANIMALS. Many before me have -- have made strong cases in favor of this bill, and I'd like to just echo their comments.
I was also very dismayed to learn recently from an OLR report that during the past ten years over 80 percent of animal cruelty cases are either unprosecuted or dismissed from the court; that amounts to over 3,000 cases of animal cruelty.
To me, this number not only indicates a large scale injustice to animals, but it is also represents a lot of missed opportunities to identify and stem early violent behavior.
Connecticut is very fortunate to have a strong and talented network of animal advocates who are always ready to volunteer. This bill would mobilize that network to help ensure that more of these animal abuse cases are properly represented; that justice is served on behalf of animal victims of cruelty and their loving families; and finally that potentially violent citizens are identified before their behavior escalates.
Our state only stands to gain from this bill, which beautifully brings together advocates to speak for the voiceless.
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to testify today, and I hope you'll continue to support this important piece of legislation.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you. Thanks for your testimony this afternoon.
Are there questions?
Well, thanks, thanks for being here.
MICHAEL CASSELLO: Good afternoon. Today, I'm here in support of Bills Number 1155, 6688 and 6685. My name is Michael E. Cassello. I've come here today, together with part of a national group -- of a national parent organization.
The bills that you are hearing today are indicative of the family law divorce system in the State of Connecticut that is dramatically broken down and need -- in much need of reform. I will state that in these three bills we are reducing conflict, litigation and the animosity between parents so that the lives of the children will not. They will be irreparably harmed or have been under today's court system. I have witnessed and lived this firsthand. Our bills before you are not perfect but are a start to build upon.
I'm a hard-working self-employed professional that has overcome much adversity and challenges of a congenital birth defect. I have never and, have to this date, never felt my handicap to be unlimited to my opportunities at any point of my life. My proudest moment and accomplishment is being the father of six bright children that have the best of qualities of both of their parents. They thrive at school, have an incredible thirst for knowledge, are kind, polite and giving to their parents -- their peers.
Sadly, I have not seen or have visitation of two of my youngest daughters in some three years now since my divorce. I have been stripped of my legal rights as a parent. I've been financially devastated by, both, the economy and necessary litigation, as well wrongly incarcerated. (Inaudible) I will mention not a proud moment, nor a recommendation for a vacation destination.
I would like to think that I am somewhat educated, but I was quickly dismissed and mistreated as a pro se within the system and quickly learned it is a true gentlemen's club. My children had a GAL and, in my opinion, that was less than adequate and never followed up on any orders and never held accountable.
In closing, be assured that my motive -- my motives are strictly for the well-being of my children and many like them. It is ridiculous to think that any parent would not want to be any part of their child's life or provide for them.
With that said, I don't think that one goes in hand with the other. Reform is a need. The system is broken and needs to be rebuilt. I stand before you and support the changes in the statute recommended by the Reform Commission that are in Bill 1155, Bill 6688, as well as 6685 on the shared custody.
As a side note, I am also here in favor of Bill 178 that came to my attention today, as I know Abigail, both personally and professionally, and I think that is a totally different take on it and should be reviewed as well.
I ask that you pass -- it is not only represents the start of modernizing but, more importantly, will produce much happier children.
Thank you for your time.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there questions?
Seeing no questions, thank you for your testimony.
Anna Doroghazi is next.
ANNA DOROGHAZI: Good afternoon, Senator Coleman, Senator Doyle, Representative Rebimbas and members of the committee. My name is Anna Doroghazi, and I'm the director of public policy and communication at Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services. CONNSACS is the coalition of Connecticut's nine community-based sexual assault crisis services programs, which provides sexual assault counseling and victim advocacy to men, women and children of all ages throughout the state.
We've submitted written testimony regarding three bills before the committee today, but I'd like to use my time now to address two of those bills: House Bill 5666 and House Bill 6636.
House Bill 5666, AN ACT CONCERNING THE FORFEITURE OF MONEY AND PROPERTY RELATED TO SEXUAL EXPLOITATION AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING is an effort to address and curb a billion dollar industry that victimizes women and men throughout the world including in Connecticut.
Prostitution and sex trafficking are highly profitable but that money does not generally go to the men and women who are being prostituted. More than 80 percent of women involved in street level prostitution work with a pimp at some point and these pimps often use physical and emotional violence to maintain control over their employees and their finances.
This bill would add prostitution -- promoting prostitution in the third degree to the list of offenses that are subject to the forfeiture of money and property used in the commission of the crime. CONNSACS is thrilled that all of our female legislators have come together to address this important issue, and we support this legislation insofar as it can used to punish pimps.
We're concerned, however, that it could also be used to seize assets from victims who are committing the crime of prostitution. Even though an overwhelming majority of these individuals are abused and almost nine in ten would leave prostitution if they felt that it were a safe and realistic option.
We hope the committee will consider how this bill would impact those individuals and consider eliminating protestation from the list of crimes that can result in the forfeiture of property. Instead, we would recommend the inclusion of Section 53a-83, patronizing a prostitute; and 53a-83a, patronizing a prostitute from a motor vehicle. This would create the opportunity to seize assets, including cars, that are used for the solicitation of prostitutes, to punish individuals who are truly driving sexual exploitation. The johns who think it's acceptable to break the law and purchase sex from a person who is likely being physically, emotionally and sexually abused.
We would also like to comment on 6636, AN ACT CONCERNING THE COLLECTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT EVIDENCE FROM INTOXICATED OR INCAPACITATED VICTIM, and we'd like to thank Senator Fasano for both his attention to this issue and his willingness to discuss it with CONNSACS and other members of the Evidence Commission.
The Evidence Commission, formally known as the Commission on the Standardization of the Collection of Evidence in Sexual Assault Investigations, is housed within the Division of Criminal Justice and has a statutory mandate for section 19a-112a, to maintain and regularly update the State of Connecticut technical guidelines for the healthcare response to victims of sexual assault.
A subcommittee of the Evidence Commission was formed last year to examine the issue of evidence collection from an intoxicated or incapacitated victim has already met several times. The subcommittee is close to making recommendations for how to update the technical guidelines to provide healthcare providers a clear guidance on how and when to collect sexual assault forensic evidence from a victim who's intoxicated or incapacitated.
While we fully support the intent of House Bill 6636, we believe it duplicates work that has already been done through the commission.
We appreciate the committee's interest on this important issue and would be happy to provide you with an update on revisions to the technical guidelines once they are complete.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you for your testimony.
Are there questions?
Thank you for, particularly, acknowledging the -- the time, the bell.
ANNA DOROGHAZI: Oh, it just worked out nicely.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Okay.
ANNA DOROGHAZI: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Next is William Rivera.
Seeing no response, Dahlia Grace -- Amy Miller.
AMY MILLER: Good afternoon, Senator Coleman, representatives of the committee.
My name is Amy Miller, and I'm the program and public policy director at the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund. CWEALF is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women, girls and their families to achieve equal opportunities in their personal and professional lives.
For almost 40 years, CWEALF has provided information, referral and support to women seeking guidance on how to proceed with divorce or how to respond to a divorce. We have spoken to thousands of women. The people who contact our office, generally, have incomes above the federally defined poverty levels with the majority with an income of about $25,000 a year with at least one child.
As you can imagine, most of the cost -- most of the people who contact us are women, around 80 percent, but that percentage has seen a decline over the past few years, which it used to be closer to 90, as men become aware of the service. And in fact, our goals is to ultimately ensure that family law case decisions are made in the best interest of families and the members have equitable outcomes.
Many of these women are in the situation where during the relationships in consultation with their partners have taken on the primary caretaker role and had to either accept an employment opportunities that supported this role or decided to remain out of the paid workforce for at least a significant period of the time.
At the time of these decisions, it was perceived to be in the best interest of the family unit. Some of these women have worked outside the home, have graduate degrees, some of high school diplomas, other have made efforts to increase their educational attainment while working to raise families.
It is also my experience that when couple's begin their families, generally, they believe it will last; that both parties have many of the same values and beliefs and dreams for the future. However, when dissolutions occur, for whatever reason, there are shifts that happen that no one can predict. It is with these women in these situations in mind that I would respond to three bills before this committee SB 1155, HB 6688 and HB 6685.
Gratefully, we oppose 1155 and 6685 as currently written.
Specifically, the point I want to make is that, ultimately, we believe that the flexibility of the family law statutes is one of the strengths. We have seen women's role and opportunities involved, families and the definitions of families change over the past decades and these statutes have the flexibility that allow for these changes as attitudes and experiences have shifted.
We have seen an increase in the mediators and cases getting resolved by mediation prior to stepping into the courts, and we applaud this increase. While this is an important option, we also understand that mediation only works in specific situations under certain circumstances. These bills look to restrict this flexibility often in the name of consistency, yet, it's not clear to us that consistency does not exist.
That leads me to the third bill, 6688, which we support. In particular, we support the study to be conducted by the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee. This year marks the 40th year of Connecticut's no-fault divorce laws. It is reasonable and desirable to do research and gather data to help inform the work. Good public policy is based on evidence not emotion.
However, we did want to -- make the -- make the point of modifying some of the language which requires the judge to share reasoning in all decisions not just those that appear to deviate from the presumptive standard. Doing so will improve transparency within the courts making the process more understandable and, thereby, benefiting the overwhelming number of family law cases where at least one party is representing themselves. We think that will add transparency.
And basically that's the conclusion of my remarks.
Thank you very much.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there questions for Ms. Miller?
Seeing none, we appreciate your testimony.
AMY MILLER: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: John Clapp.
JOHN CLAPP: Well, thank you all for -- for staying. Thank you, Senator Coleman and Representative Fox.
My name is John Clapp. I'm the chair of the Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut, we're a 501(c)(4) corporation, and we've been incorporated for ten years in the state. The mission of the Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut is to work for change in the legislative and judicial systems to improve outcomes for children in contested custody cases.
To this end, we have joined forces with the National Parents Organization to encourage shared parenting. I am in favor of HB 6685 because it promotes the importance of shared parenting. And I'm in favor of HB 1155 and HB 6688, have a limited understanding but my understanding is corrects some very sexist language that's currently existing in the statute.
In 2002, with the Governor's Commission on Divorce, Custody and Children recognized the importance of continuing involvement of both parents in a child's life. The commission identified the continuing involvement as one of the five critical challenges affecting the outcomes for children in the state of Connecticut. It reviewed the overwhelming evidence that children with an absent parent have lower grades, higher delinquency, higher school dropout rates and higher rates of incarceration.
As a result of the commission's recommendations in 2005, section 46b-56 of the Connecticut statutes now states that custody -- custody decisions should, quote, provide the child with the active and consistent involvement of both parents commensurate with their abilities and interests, end quote.
However, this section of the statute still fosters litigation and conflict because of its ambiguous language. It's the opinion of the Shared Parenting Council that the law must insist on the critical and primary role of shared parenting. It must limit the notions and -- and legal conflict that currently disadvantages children. Unfortunately, as a current -- as the process is currently structured and too often results in the unnecessary elimination completely of fit parents from an active role in a child's life, this leads directly to the poor outcomes for children that I mentioned.
Even one case, like that of Jerry Mastrangelo or Tim Gelling, would be one too many but, unfortunately, you've heard many such cases today and there are many more over the ten years that I've been involved in this that I've heard about in the State of Connecticut. And very often, in these cases, children are caught between warring parents and their lawyers who are pursuing money and control through litigation.
So what I think we need is implementation of the current law and the recommendations of the 2002 commission rather than further study. We -- we need to figure out how to implement that. The costly and destructive litigation must be discouraged by the presumption of substantially equal parenting time. I'm in favor of HB 6685 because it makes a statement that we are in favor of substantially equal parenting time, and we discourage costly and ineffective litigation that is bad for the children.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Clapp.
Are there questions? Any questions for Mr. Clapp?
Seeing none, thank you for your time and your testimony.
GINA SIMKO: Good afternoon. My name is Gina Simko, and I am from Hamden. I support the changes in Bill 1155 and 6688 and hope to see bill 6685 move forward regarding shared custody.
Reform in Connecticut family law and divorce is desperately needed. In the highly publicized parental alienation case that was in the New Haven Court House for the past two years, a dad had joint physical custody of his three children. Despite having this court order, the children's mother denied him access to his children for the past two and a half years. Since parental alienation takes hold of the entire family, the children have not seen their extended family for years. Their grandpa passed away being deprived of seeing his dear grandchildren. Their Noni only has pictures to remember their smiles. Cousins have not laughed or shared school and friend stories. Aunts and uncles have not been able to give hugs and kisses to those precious faces or celebrate birthdays and holidays with them.
I am an alienated aunt and Godmother to one of those children. The last time I saw my niece was in 2010 at my daughter's birthday party. The cousins ate, swam, hoopla-hooped, and played volleyball on a beautiful warm day. They truly had fun. The memory is etched in my mind as the last party that we celebrated as a united family. I saw my nephews for a few minutes in 2012 when they visited my dad, as he was dying, that memory is also etched in my mind. The boys looked so scared and helpless. It was their dad that encouraged them to hug their grandfather as they whispered a timid, Hi, Grandpa.
If a shared custody law had existed in Connecticut, these children would not have been forced to choose between their parents after they divorced. They would have been involved with their extended family and the pain of knowing that a grandparent was so ill would have been eased by the continuous love that we all would have given to them.
I attended every court session for the past two years, and I witnessed firsthand how the court system is truly broken. The best interest of my nephews and niece was never realized and time was of no concern to any of the attorneys, the GAL or the judge.
Children deserve so much better than what I observed going on in the courtroom. How could anyone claim that taking a good parent out of his child's life is in their best interest. Instead of the attorneys and the GAL claiming to have the children's best interest, a law is needed to enforce what is actually in the children's best interest.
As the saying goes, actions do speak louder than words. And the family court rooms in Connecticut are certainly not representing this expression. Parental alienation is child abuse and shared custody laws would prevent this abuse.
SENATOR COLEMAN: We're doing well here.
Any questions for Ms. Simko?
Seeing none, thank you very much.
GINA SIMKO: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Livia Barndollar.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Good afternoon, Senator Coleman, other representatives and senators of the committee.
I'm one of the members of the lawyers working group as it has been described that created Bill 1155. The other members of that working group were Arthur Balbirer, Gaetano Ferro -- Gaetano Ferro being here today -- and retired Supreme Court Justice McLachlan, who was on both the working group for 1155 and the group that came up with the Bill 6688, which has been discussed a number of times today.
Our backgrounds and the wealth of knowledge that we all have is set out in Attorney Ferro's testimony, written testimony, just some indication because there have been references to the positions of various family law sections in Connecticut chapters of the academy and other institutional organizations. It is important to note, I think, that all four of us were former chairs and officers of the Family Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association. Two of us were passed presidents of the National American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. I was the president of the Connecticut Bar Association, three past presidents from the Connecticut Chapter of the Academy and a number of other positions dedicated to the development of family law.
We -- our group was originated through the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Law earlier in the year. We were commended -- commissioned, rather, to submit legislation to Sam Schoonmaker, III, we did so.
We were asked to look at 40 years of law in -- in a number of different areas of the statutes and see whether or not there were confusions that were created by differing opinions and also whether there needed to be updates based on the law. Some of those updates are in common between the Bill 6688 and Raised Bill 1155. Judge Solomon's gone through them. I'm not going to try to address all of them.
I would like to try to address some of the things that are different. Some of the more technical items, I'll come back to, if the members of the committee wish to ask questions or wish me to do so.
One of those technical things is the section 2 of the -- the bill, I will come back to that. One of them that's not so technical and very important, we think to the development of the law, is that arbitration should cover not just what it does currently but also should include child support and child-related financial issues, not custody, but related financial issues because, currently, there are a number of cases that could be arbitrated. Taking some of the load off our really heavily burdened court system and allowing the court -- the parties to become more specifically and directly involved in out-of-court arrangements for their cases. And they're not being done because of this.
Your honor -- your honor, yes -- would you like me to continue, or would you like me to submit to questions?
SENATOR COLEMAN: I think what I'd like you to do is just to summarize whatever is the remainder of your testimony.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Thank you.
A number of the other provisions that would be changed are to try to bring the statutes in accordance with the current case law. What I think has been the elephant in the room all day is a discussion about whether or not the suggested calculation that is in section 46b-82c is a guideline or not.
The argument that has been made is because the court would need to explain why they didn't use the calculation if they didn't use it, should be tempered by the fact that what the provision provides is that the court would explain why those equitable factors were that encouraged it not to use the calculations. Those are the timeless factors that Judge Solomon talked about.
There is not a superseding of -- or an elevation of income over other factors. In fact, the language of (c) says, the court may utilize this calculation. It is neither mandatory nor presumptive, and it shall supplement but not supersede those factors. So those factors are what guides the courts' power to do equity. There are no requirements in this scheme, in this analysis, to tie their hands.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there questions?
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for your testimony.
As the member of the working group that came up with --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Yes.
REP. BARAM: -- 6688. When we discussed the concept of guidelines, there was a strong feeling -- regardless of what you call them, presumptive, voluntary, whatever -- that judges would nevertheless use them. That it's -- it would be easy for a judge just to fall back on a formula and disregard the other factors and that you would then come up with a somewhat arbitrary way of calculating alimony, both in terms of amount and term. And I should say that former Justice McLachlan and I want to get this straight, he only supported, I believe, part of the -- the guidelines. I'm trying to remember whether it was to amount and not to term but -- but he was not in favor of applying guidelines (inaudible).
So you had, you know, you have a division of thought as to whether the guidelines are -- are appropriate and whether they would become presumptive notwithstanding whatever you call them. Then -- then there was a group that said well it should apply to one thing let's say amount and not to term or vice versa. And then you -- you have, you know, the group that feels that the factors that we have, as everyone calls them are timeless, and that they really adequately do the job.
What everybody did agree on was that oftentimes judges make orders without specificity. And although the judge may understand why he or she is making the order, the, you know, the -- the party, the husband or wife, they don't understand it. It's never explained to them and maybe their attorney doesn't really understand it either.
So we thought that this was a good step forward and then have this study to look at, you know, the whole thing globally what's been the impact, you know, in Connecticut, what are some of the other states doing because I think as Judge Solomon pointed out, each state has their own -- the few states that have the formulas have different formulas. They, you know -- and there's at least in the limited time that we had, we couldn't discern what the rationale was for the different formulas in different states.
So some came to the conclusion maybe it's just an arbitrary thing. They said, you know, add it up, divide in half, take 20 percent, whatever the formula might have said. So that's why we felt the -- the better way to go was to do a study and to really get all the information.
And I'm just wondering what that little explanation if -- if you understand why we're, you know, proceeding forward, I think, in a positive way but cautiously to try and get more information.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: I do understand that and Attorney Ferro will talk more about how we came up with the calculation that we did. We were very careful not to add things, like deviation criteria, that we thought would make this look more like a presumptive guideline. We purposely included nothing about term. We thought that was an arena where there were just so many different moving parts that the courts should not even have something written down. But the -- the theory behind this calculation that we have here is that a judge would not be bound in any way to ignore and should not ignore the statutory criteria.
And we added two criteria, as did your working group, the same two criteria, and then we added tax planning consequences, also, but what we did think was that, for example, the 85 percent of the cases that have self-represented parties on one or both sides or for the uninitiated judge that's starting out or for those lawyers who are now all of a sudden doing family law because there aren't so many real estate closings to do anymore; that this might be a good thing for people to look at and -- and calculate against and consider against with the hope that that's going to lead people to make more resolutions of their own.
Attorney White had -- has written testimony that's on the web site for today. And she indicated that she thought that more consistency and more predictability would lead people to come to quicker resolutions that she sees that 80 percent of her clients, who are women, are sometimes squeezed and forced into making resolutions before they're ready because of the mounting costs of the litigation; and that, perhaps, this can provide some baseline for those types of individuals, whether they be self-represented individuals or lawyers or judges who have not had a lot of experience in the arena to something that they can use to move forward from.
It's not going to prevent the -- the seasoned judge or the judge who has sat for three days understanding the people's real personal issues from using what he or she always could use, his or her discretion and the equitable factors that are under 46b-82.
REP. BARAM: Just one last thing, and I don't want to take up a lot of time, it's really more of a rhetorical question but, you know, if you compare it to the child support guidelines. There was a commission; there was a study, a lot of economic data presented.
Don't you think that by just coming up with a formula without the background information, the statistical information, that we're doing a disservice? And let's just jump to the conclusion for a moment that maybe at some point a formula will be something that's embraced by everybody. If it was, shouldn't there be a rationale basis for what that formula is?
And I understand that your group put in a lot time and -- and you've got, you know, a lot of experience and intelligence there but notwithstanding that shouldn't this be a more comprehensive review so that if it was the way we go in the future, there's -- there's a good basis for and rationale for -- for the formula?
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: You're right. We had a lot of experience. We added it up today. It's over a 100 years of experience in the practice of law but -- and -- and a lot -- and this did come from somewhere, and I would like actually to punt that question to Attorney Ferro who knows -- who was very involved in where this came from.
As far as it being like the child support guidelines, we were -- we're really not in favor of a presumptive guideline the way the child support guidelines work. We were trying to provide some sort of parameters for a judge. As I said a judge or an experienced litigant or an inexperienced lawyer to look at and also a -- a baseline. I mean, we do this in -- by agreement. Those of us who practice family law on a regular basis, by agreement work off of the child support guidelines but maybe be able to come to different resolutions by agreement.
What this isn't, not only isn't it a strict guideline, but it doesn't deal with child support and it doesn't deal with unallocated alimony in child support. And a lot of the -- the groups that are concerned that we're improvising the payee because of the formula are forgetting that if it's unallocated alimony and child support or if there's child support, in addition, that that's going to change the financial impact of this calculation.
REP. BARAM: Again, that -- that -- you know, one of the issues or problems in embracing the concept of a -- of a formula is that, you know, as many people used the word "mosaic." It's a mosaic. You're -- you're looking at property distribution, child support, alimony. There may be some other assets that are being divided and to just simplify it into a formula without taking into consideration the mosaic of -- of other things that are happening, you could do a disservice.
And again, the feeling was call it want you want, it's very easy for a judge just to fall back and say, oh, yeah, you fall in the 20 percent category, that's what I'm going to order. And the -- the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is the 12 to 15 factors, everyone, you know, praises them, you know, we're embellishing it adding some things to it but they're saying that by and large the -- the -- those are sound, they make sense, and a judge needs to do some work to make sure they analyze these things.
I remember ten years ago, we had a famous family relations office in Hartford, Bob Colucci, and his rule was, you know, one half of the length of the marriage. And then that went out the window. And it was an arbitrary thing, but it was easy so everybody did it. And frankly, I did it, too. You go in your mindset was there, one half the length of the marriage, and then you worked off there. But it -- it, you know, it kind of lulled us into complacency because it was so easy to say that's the formula, that's what everyone's thinking.
And that -- that -- I'm just, kind of, sharing with you the struggles that we went through on the working group in just trying to adopt a formula, but I think we did the next best thing which was to say, okay, let's -- let's study the whole ball of wax. Let's get the information in and take that second look at it when we have, you know, a comprehensive evaluation of -- of what exists.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: I understand you did a lot of hard work, and I know we had a lot of the same struggles and discussion, et cetera. I think that a judge who would sit back and use this calculation and ignore the fact that it says it is supposed to supplement and not supersede all of the criteria and that they are supposed to be able to articulate why they do something other than this calculation based upon those same criteria.
I think that a judge who -- who sat back and didn't take that charge seriously would be -- would be the one that was doing the disservice.
REP. G. FOX: Representative O'Neill.
REP. O'NEILL: When you're mentioning that the judge should be able to articulate -- first of all, welcome good to see you.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Hi, how are you?
REP. O'NEILL: When the judge is -- what kind of things should the judge be looking to in terms of articulating? I mean, because I'm not seeing anything is there something like there is for the child support guidelines. I mean --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Representative O'Neill, it refers to the subsection a of the section. Those are the criteria that -- that have always -- well, always, since -- for the last 40 years, have been part of the statute in determining how alimony -- what alimony is awarded for how long and for how much.
It's in the current statute at 46b-82a. We've added earning capacity and education, as has Judge Solomon's working group. We've added tax consequences of its orders, but they are all in the same place that they have been in the statute. So it's the reference to the usual statutory criteria in determining an order.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay. Because I mean those are the criteria that we have, as you said, been using for a long time and the judge kind of without using them -- none of them are tied to a particular number, like, 30 percent or something of that sort --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: That's true.
REP. O'NEILL: So -- but those criteria are the things to look at while looking at all the -- the factors or the -- to give guidance, I guess, to the judge when looking at a every individualized life and lifestyle and set of factors that people have in their lives.
So -- and then, if I understand it correctly, what you're saying is that if you're not going to use the formula, you go back to the criteria that we have traditionally for the last several decades been using?
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Well, I want to make it clear that the calculation, specifically, says the court may utilize it and it supplements but it doesn't supersede those factors. Then the proposed sets -- subsection d says, the court shall state whether it utilized the calculation. And if it wasn't -- didn't utilize it, what factors, set forth in subsection a, resulted in the courts declining to use it.
So, actually, to go back to Representative Baram's point, when we're talking about the mosaic, one of those criteria is the estate of the parties. So you're going back into the mosaic there because you're looking at the property settlement or the property distribution.
Have I answered your question clearly?
REP. O'NEILL: Well, I'm not sure. As I'm looking at this thing, I'm kind of -- we'll find out I guess you're the wrong person to ask the question of. I guess it's Attorney Ferro that's going to know where the formula came from.
One would assume that if we've been doing it more or less right for the last 40 years, that the formula and a careful analysis of all the factors and application of the factors to any given marriage should produce, approximately, the same result. If they're -- if they're both fair, if they're both hitting fairness, some kind of reasonable fairness in terms of the amount of alimony, then they should come up with something like the same number. One would think. I mean, if -- in other words, my assumption was that the -- the formula was a way of kind of shorthand version to get to an answer similar to what good judges doing good work get to when they use those criteria.
Let me stop there and ask you is that a reasonable assumption on my part?
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: It is a reasonable assumption.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Having said that, the first part of your assumption that it pretty much always turns out to be the same has become less and less the case as we've had less and less experienced judges who have rotated in and out of family law.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay. So -- all right. So the implication then what you're saying is that -- of what you're saying is that the judges -- if we had people stay on family law for, say, all eight years or most, let's say, seven out of their eight years of a term that, certainly, by the time you get to the eighth year or seventh year after a couple years, hopefully, the judges have gotten a hang of it and, therefore, this is meant to compensate for the more rapid rotation in some sense?
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: The lesser resources, the more rapid the rotation, the judges who don't really like being in family law, the burgeoning pro se population, the continuing burdening of the court with the -- with more and more cases, with more and more protracted and -- and hard fought cases, the lessening of resources for the courts, all of those economic and social realities that we've seen over the last five to ten years.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay. So if -- in other words, I'll put -- let me try another attack here. If -- if we were to pick a couple of hundred cases at random from, say, either an earlier time period or judges with lots -- we acknowledge to be really experienced and -- and good family law judges, people who really know what they're doing, they would produce this -- you think they would produce about the same result as the formula? Is that --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Well, the formula speaks to one type of situation. It doesn't speak on unallocated alimony and child support. It doesn't speak to -- we don't -- we're trying to have it not speak to high, really high income cases. It -- I think and I have a disagreement on that premise with Attorney Ferro, but I think it is primarily useful when both of the parties are working.
And I would say to you, Representative O'Neill, that a lot of the -- the family bar that have been practicing for a long period of time or have had a lot of cases would say that there is a range that we have in our heads of what the appropriate amount is for alimony, just alimony, and that there is some scratching of those same heads when we get to the point where we're trying to figure out how we factor in the second spouse, the second working spouse into the mix. And this formula was actually developed by a different group originally. And that is where I'm going to punt back --
REP. O'NEILL: Okay.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- to Attorney Farrow so he can give you the background to that.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay. So for the inexperienced judge sitting there, if this becomes the law, they should -- if they're not going to use this formula, they should be able to justify it based on something. And let me make sure I understand -- when they go back to the top and they're looking at one of the factors -- computers not moving -- when they go back to -- to section a, they should be able to find, let's see, pick one --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: I think health would be one.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: If one of the parties is not well, you're not going to start at 30 percent. If that party has really extensive expenses, healthcare expenses and there were family resources to provide for. It may not be at 30 percent, it may be starting higher.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay, okay. Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Are there other questions?
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Sorry.
REP. G. FOX: I just wanted to say I'm sorry I was out of the room when you began your testimony, and I do want to thank you for making the -- the trip here to Hartford today.
And you -- you know and we've had a chance to talk. This is difficult and as you can tell by the -- the experience of some of the attorneys who come before us and how they sometimes differ and judges sometimes differ. And it's -- so it's hard for us, as legislators, we -- it's not an easy issue for us to address either, but we do appreciate hearing because -- hearing from those who do this every day because it is helpful.
I missed your opening remarks, but I wanted to ask -- you and I talked about something that is not part of this bill but it was a problem that you -- you raised. And I wanted to give you a chance to talk about it. It was the issue of when there's a case on appeal if an individual dies and what happens there, and if you have -- do you want to just say a few words about that --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Fine.
REP. G. FOX: -- you may.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Thank you.
There were a number of the technical changes that are in this bill that I didn't talk about. Everybody wants to talk about the alimony calculation. I hope that if the -- if the committee has any questions about any of those others, those changes were really important to the committee.
One of the things we had submitted and didn't make its way into Raised Bill Number 1155 was what would happen if parties were -- if a judgment of dissolution had entered and then there was an appeal by one or both -- well, one or both of the parties, and then one of the parties died during the appeal process.
So we had drafted a suggested statutory provision that would, essentially, keep the parties married for legal reasons -- for legal purposes so that it would be clear who the surviving -- that there was a surviving spouse. It would be clear for purposes of retirement plans, for example. And there -- this was another one of those areas where the working group wound debating quite a bit and my -- my friends here like to meet at seven o'clock in the morning. I don't know about debating at seven o'clock in the morning on an empty stomach, but we tried to come up with a provision that we expected if it developed, it would be something we would be talking about with the probate folks and the state lawyers, et cetera, but it was for the purpose of trying to keep -- to deal with what is a rather gray area right now.
There were some cases that say you're divorced, you're divorced, you're divorced. There are a couple of cases that say that they're -- it's unclear whether or not when you have the stay, you are also stay in the dissolution itself. And we wanted to try to make it certain whether a person would be a surviving spouse for purposes of all the different -- the different pieces -- types of property that could pass by law or by will.
REP. G. FOX: Okay and --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Let me retract that by law.
REP. G. FOX: Okay.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Because by will wouldn't be affected.
REP. G. FOX: Yeah, well, I understand. You raise a problem that I don't how often it happens but it must happen sometimes --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: It happens enough.
REP. G. FOX: I mean it was enough --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Right.
REP. G. FOX: -- that you felt that it was important to put in there. And -- and I could understand it being a real question when it does happen and a real issue of how do you resolve this. On the other hand, I did have concerns about keeping people married post decision, you know, which could then keep them two, three years out the fact that they're legally married that has other ramifications --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- Sure --
REP. G. FOX: -- so I -- I would encourage you maybe to speak to the probate folks. I don't know if you've done that or I can try to put you in touch with the people from Probate Court Administration to see if they have some ideas as to how to address the potentially very real problem that you're talking about without the other concerns that, you know, die. Because I don't think anyone's saying you should stay married --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Right.
REP. G. FOX: -- you know, for three years.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- and you don't want the appeal --
REP. G. FOX: Yeah.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- to be something that is another way of --
REP. G. FOX: Yeah.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- of -- of making the opposing party miserable --
REP. G. FOX: Yeah.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- or --
REP. G. FOX: it probably makes them miserable anyway.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Right, right.
REP. G. FOX: But more misery, okay.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: But I'm sorry because I didn't bring that today --
REP. G. FOX: Okay.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- I'm a little less clear --
REP. G. FOX: Yeah.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- on the specifics but, yes, we did submit --
REP. G. FOX: Okay.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- that provision, and I'll be happy to follow up on it, again.
REP. G. FOX: Yeah, well, I think it's -- you do raise something that could be a real issue --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Well --
REP. G. FOX: -- but at the same time --
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Everything that's in here --
REP. G. FOX: Yeah.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- we thought was an issue because of the either the development of the law or the confusion of the case law overlaying on the statutory's --
REP. G. FOX: Okay.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: -- provisions.
REP. G. FOX: Well, thank you very much.
LIVIA BARNDOLLAR: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Anthony Rizano, okay. Michelle Holmes, Debora Bresch, Jose Nunez -- Nunez, okay, Sheila Hayre -- Hayre -- Hayre, okay.
SHEILA HAYRE: Good afternoon, members of the committee. My name is Sheila Hayre, and I'm here to testify on behalf of New Haven Legal Assistance in opposition to 1155.
I spent the past nine years representing victims of domestic violence in divorce cases and, as you can imagine, most of my clients have been women. I'm very, very happy to be testifying immediately after Attorney Livia Barndollar because I would like to respond to some of the comments that she made.
The way I understood the discussion to be going is that this is a -- well, let me back up so that there is a statutory system in place right now that allows judges to consider many very important factors. And this act proposes a formula to supplement that, but I would like to note that if you look at section d, it states that this is an either/or proposition. So essentially what this bill does is create two tracks.
It is says that the judge will state whether it utilized -- utilized a calculation or if the calculation was not used, then the court -- the court will set forth the factors it did rely upon and why it declined to use the calculations. So this is an either/or proposition. It's not like you can look at the calculation and, say, but, you know, the health of the party is bad so I'm going to schmooze with it a little. No, it's two tracks.
And I was very disturbed by the testimony that was elicited that the tracks look like the people who are high income will fall into the more nuanced track, the people who where -- where both parties are working would fall in the less nuanced calculation formula track. Judges who don't like family law or less experienced in family law will go ahead and use the less nuanced track. I could on but there are a couple categories, pro se's. So this to me is extremely concerning.
The other piece that I would like to mention is what this does. She talked about a baseline, but I would argue as someone who has practice family law and I would challenge other family law attorneys to differ with me that if we have a calculation like this, this will become the gold standard. Before we go to court to discuss alimony, it will be, essentially, malpractice not to do this calculation and this will be the starting point for all discussions. And this will radically move the foundation of what alimony looks like today in a very, very different direction.
So, then, I want to go back to some of the comments that I had prepared. I am absolutely in support already of those who testified against the bill, Judge Solomon, Arnold Rutkin, Sally Oldham, and I don't want to repeat too much of what they've said here. I will hope that you'll ask me later about some of the comments that I included in my written testimony that basically says this bill is a hodgepodge of lots of random stuff. There are a couple of good ideas but most of them are pretty bad but, again, I want to focus on the alimony because I think that's the thing that's really going to hurt my clients and -- and clients of many attorneys.
We can quibble over semantics, but people have said these are guidelines and, again, I think I'm quibbling over semantics but I think of this as guidelines. This is a comprehensive thoughtful approach to how child support should be calculated. What we have here is a formula, and I'm not saying if we have guidelines for alimony that I would be in favor of that. In fact, I may be -- I probably would be against it, but what I am saying is we have an equation. All you need is a calculator and gross income and you have an answer.
So -- and the irony here, actually, we talked about predictability and consistency. The irony here as Ms. Barndollar pointed out is the statute -- please stop me if I'm -- if you want me to stop but if I may just -- may I just summarize --
REP. G. FOX: Why don't you -- let me ask you a question. What's the irony here?
SHEILA HAYRE: Tell me what the irony -- I'll tell you what the irony here is.
The irony here is and, again, I'm -- I actually think this may rise to the level of constitutional infirmity in this statute. When we are looking at an alimony award, there are two components. There is the amount of the award and you can guess what the other thing is, the duration.
This statute says nothing about duration. So they're trying to produce something that's going to be predictable and consistent? Guess what, without any information in here, there's nothing on how the judge is supposed to calculate duration. There's no consistency, there's no predictability, and she admitted it's a very difficult thing.
So my point is that -- and that can make all the difference. Right? Because if you have an alimony award per year of $10,000 but the duration is one year versus five years, versus six months. It's over.
And -- and the constitutional infirmity part is that there's no guidance for the judge. If this is an either/or formula, the judge has great calculations for how to determine the amount of the award. If I were a judge, I'd look at this and say, well, I want to use this formula but there's no guidance on how I determine the amount of the award, so then do I go to the statutory factors. It's a significant question.
Can I give you another question to ask me?
REP. G. FOX: Sure. I have a -- well, actually, I have a question, actually, for you and then I'll ask the other members if they have questions.
You mentioned that there were some ideas in 1155 that you thought might -- might be something that you would -- and I don't want to say support -- but that you thought might be good ideas. What are -- what are those ones that --
SHEILA HAYRE: Well, I would say two things are unobjectionable that is the gender neutral language. I find that very hard to oppose. And two, I think consideration of a -- I don't want to oppose that -- and the consideration of tax consequences, I do think make sense.
However, there's all this other stuff in there about if you have a legal separation and years later a divorce, the judge has to use -- he can't revise the alimony order that he entered at the time of the legal separation when it turns into a divorce. And, to me, that makes no sense because years can elapse and the judges should be allowed to look at whether the circumstances have substantially changed. And -- and, you know, make an award that is in accordance with those circumstances.
I can give you one other thing that gave me cause -- pause. There was -- there was -- the -- the specification of factors. We've discussed this a little. That the judge must specify why he or she is making the award of alimony makes sense to me, but I don't understand why the bill focuses and singles out the nonmodifiable lifelong alimony. I think it's a great idea to ask judges to specify, but we should be consistent and create a regime that doesn't single out one thing but say that in all alimony awards they should do that.
REP. G. FOX: Okay. Thank you.
Are there other questions from members of the committee?
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you for your testimony.
You captured many of the concerns that were raised in our working group. With regard to your -- the point on modifying alimony, from turning a legal separation into a divorce, our group started to discuss that, we just ran out of time and it -- it needed some, you know, greater analysis and in-depth discussion. So I don't want you to think that we rejected the concept. It's just we ran out of time and we had to go with what we were able to do.
On the tax consequences, I'll ask it in a form of a question because it's the same thing we dealt with. Don't you think that when the judge looks at the other factors, by necessity, they're taking into account, tax consequences that's it implied when you're looking at the financial status and --
SHEILA HAYRE: -- and you're saying, therefore, unnecessary to include.
REP. BARAM: Correct, correct.
SHEILA HAYRE: You know, I think it's good to be clear if that's what we want to be clear about. I think you're probably right. The judges are considering that already, but I do think when you're fashioning a statute, it's important that if that is your intent -- and I do think there are cases in which that may not be happening that you would add it in. It's a -- that's a complicated question of statutory interpretation, but I think it couldn't hurt to put it in.
And if I may and I had one more comment and is that the -- the opponents, I think, you know, look at a chart of marriages and they see two marriages which are equal in length and the parties have similar incomes. And they say, well, why in one case do we have this big alimony award and this other case we have a small alimony award. And I would say if you look at a chart, yes, it seems unpredictable and inconsistent, but if you look at the cases and -- and -- and you see what the judge saw, the judges are spending one day, two days, three days, four days, hearing the parties, testify, hearing evidence. I think the judges are getting it right. And I think many of those cases are mine where you get the big awards of alimony.
I have women who are suffering physical, emotional, sexual violence and have been controlled emotionally, financially, socially, and I think the judges should -- the discretionary factors of the old regime properly allow judges to do that. And I would hate to -- to have a group of litigants who get, you know, the -- the easy version.
REP. BARAM: Actually, that's -- that's -- that's another good point, which we discussed in our group because we -- we heard some, you know, very compelling testimony by different individuals. And when you listen to their, you know, their tales, obviously, you feel, you know, sorry and sympathetic, but it's hard to compare one case against another because we don't know all the facts. We -- we don't know if it was a medical issue or if there was an inheritance, if there was this or that. So because one of the things that we discussed in the group was how -- how would you compile some kind of an analysis to really do this -- this kind of a study? And I'm not sure we have the answer but, you know, the -- we used to call it the Health Form now the Court Report Form that you fill out about your education and all that.
SHEILA HAYRE: Uh-huh.
REP. BARAM: I always thought that those were being assembled and studied and analyzed. We were led to believe they're warehoused. Nobody's looking at them. There's no staff. There's no money. It's just warehoused. I'm not even sure why we fill them out anymore but that might have given us some information. I'm not sure and, actually, Justice McLachlan said that he was part of a working group many years ago --
SHEILA HAYRE: Uh-huh.
REP. BARAM: -- to devise a form that would have kept some kind of a statistical analysis. Maybe that's something we need to go back to so we can get some, you know, information on that but --
SHEILA HAYRE: Well --
REP. BARAM: -- thank you very much --
SHEILA HAYRE: -- it's interesting that you say that because I think CWEALF is doing a study, and my contention would be if the study shows completely different, disparate outcomes, it may be that the system is functioning correctly and that the only way you can really understand it is to get into the nitty-gritty of what the case involves because I think those differences reflect the reality. And I'm very critical of judges, that the judges that hear my cases are listening, they're smart, they're getting it and -- and they're making good decisions, certainly better than the proposal we have before us.
REP. BARAM: Are there any other questions you want us to ask you?
SHEILA HAYRE: You got it all.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you.
Yeah, we're done.
Debra Bresch apparently had stepped out when I called her name earlier so.
So now you get a minute and a half --
Please -- please proceed.
DEBRA BRESCH: Thank you.
No, no my testimony won't take much longer than that.
REP. G. FOX: Okay.
DEBRA BRESCH: You've heard a lot about H -- H -- excuse me -- HB 6690 today. I'm Debra Bresch with the ASPCA, American Society Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I wanted to express our full support for this bill. We have 22,000 members in Connecticut, and I'm speaking on their behalf.
Just a couple of things, again, you've heard a lot about this bill. I wanted to just note a couple of things. I think earlier you heard about the statistics through 2011 that 89 percent of these cases are cruelty cases, which include both misdemeanor and felony level cruelty and animal fighting, which really is endemic in every state. So there are far more animal -- probably cases of animal cruelty that are not going -- are not prosecuted but through -- you heard that through 2011, 80 to 90 percent of the animal cruelty cases are being nolle'd or dismissed but this also goes for 2012. These numbers have remained extraordinarily consistent.
So, again, in 2012, just about 80 percent of these cases were nolle'd or dismissed. And I guess I just -- I do want to add that, you know, if -- if the justice for the animal victim is -- would not be considered sufficient basis to support this bill, certainly, public safety would be. And to add to what you've heard earlier, there's -- there was some research that found that animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes, four times more likely to commit property crimes and more than three times more likely to be arrested for drug and disorderly person offenses.
So clear -- there's a clear connection between animal cruelty and additional antisocial behavior. And often they ricochet between the two over the -- over the course of their lives. So for the sake of public safety and for the sake of being humane, I strongly urge you to support HB 6690.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you. Thanks for your testimony.
Are there questions --
DEBRA BRESCH: (Inaudible.)
REP. G. FOX: Yes -- very -- that was very good, thank you.
DEBRA BRESCH: Okay.
REP. G. FOX: Oh, I'm sorry, Senator Meyer.
SENATOR MEYER: We're talking about the same bill, right, which is --
DEBRA BRESCH: The court advocate bill.
SENATOR MEYER: House Bill 6690 --
DEBRA BRESCH: Yes.
SENATOR MEYER: Good.
Would you -- the bill on its -- on its face relates to questions about animal cruelty or custody of the animal. Do you believe this -- this bill and the animal advocate should be appointed in a matrimonial manner where there's a beloved animal in the family and there's got to be a decision made about who's going to have custody --
DEBRA BRESCH: Right.
SENATOR MEYER: In the event of a divorce or legal separation?
DEBRA BRESCH: Right, right.
I had heard that there was some talk about possibly restricting the bill to criminal situations, cruelty cases, and I guess I would probably want to express our strongest support for something like that. And that really is sort of where the ASPCA comes in on issues. I'm not sure what our position would be on the latter. You know I can see how that could be -- how that could implicate humane issues, particularly, if one partner thinks that the other one is not going to treat the animal appropriately. I think I -- I guess I would want to get back to you on the ASPCA's position on that. We have a very strong position on the need for an advocate in criminal proceedings.
SENATOR MEYER: Okay because right now the -- the bill, in my opinion, on its plain reading would apply to matrimonial actions --
DEBRA BRESCH: Yes, I would agree.
SENATOR MEYER: -- because it says it any civil or criminal section of the Superior Court in which the welfare or custody of an animal is an issue.
DEBRA BRESCH: And I agree with you.
SENATOR MEYER: -- And -- and that -- that could become difficult to get the vote to support this bill if it was going to apply -- apply to every matrimonial action.
DEBRA BRESCH: Okay. I -- that's good information to have because we would want to see this bill pass. I just would -- I think -- I haven't considered the implications sufficiently in terms of the ASPCA's perspective. I mean our perspective is we want to ensure humane treatment of -- of every animal, and so I think I would need to get back to you on the -- the possible implication of -- of that --
SENATOR MEYER: I would get -- I would get back to the chairs because --
DEBRA BRESCH: -- as well.
SENATOR MEYER: -- they'll be a time in the duration of this committee that they'll be a vote --
DEBRA BRESCH: Yes.
SENATOR MEYER: -- to prove or disprove. And it seems to me that if -- this bill, as written, would -- would necessarily apply to every matrimonial action in which there was a -- a pet in the family and that -- that could present problems.
DEBRA BRESCH: Well, I appreciate your perspective and -- and thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you, Senator Meyer, thanks for pointing that out.
DEBRA BRESCH: Yes.
REP. G. FOX: Thank you for your testimony.
DEBRA BRESCH: Thank you.
REP. G. FOX: Attorney Guy Ferro.
GAETANO FERRO: Good afternoon, Representative Fox --
REP. G. FOX: Good afternoon.
GAETANO FERRO: -- other representatives, senators. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak.
Part of the problem is 1155, which I want to talk to has eight sections and I think six of them haven't even been mentioned. I'll take your direction, do you want me just take off what each is about briefly, or do you want me to get into what Representative Baram was questioning about where these -- where these suggested calculations --
REP. G. FOX: If there's areas -- it's your testimony if there's areas you want to point to. I'm sure somebody can ask you about the alimony so maybe you want to go the other sections first.
GAETANO FERRO: Okay. Let me do the other ones first. Our first suggestion is that we address a conflict between the Practice Book and the statute. The statute says when a modification and a contempt are pending, the court must to it simultaneously. The Practice Book says when a modification and a contempt are pending, the court doesn't have to do it simultaneously. We voted for the latter. Matters of procedures should be decided by judges. It gives the judge the ability to look at the circumstances and say, Does it make sense to do it together or not?
The second one you've heard about eliminating the somewhat archaic language about husband and wife and referring to spouse in section 46b-36.
Legal separation, you heard a little bit about legal separation a few minutes ago from the New Haven Legal Aid lawyer. We have a problem, cases send mixed messages. Some cases suggest that at the time of a conversion of a legal separation to a dissolution of marriage, the court should revisit all the finances. Other cases say the court shouldn't revisit all the finances. As a result of those former cases -- and by the way if you look in my commentary, I've cited those cases -- you never see legal separations. It's become a dead letter because any good lawyer has to tell the client you could be doing this twice, more fees for me --
bad for you. Don't do a legal separation because you may have to redo the finances a year or two years from now if you're back here for a dissolution of marriage.
What we said is make it clear that the court isn't redoing the finances. Alimony, however, is subject to the rule of modification. If there are grounds for modification, the court can revisit alimony but don't do property division twice.
We're suggesting a revision to 46b-66 arbitration. Attorney Barndala -- Barndollar touched on it. A number of years ago our Legislature took a giant step and authorized -- expressly authorized arbitration in dissolution of marriage of cases. Unfortunately the step wasn't big enough. There is virtually no arbitration now and that is because child support and child-related financial issues: education, camps, things like that, cannot be arbitrated because our mosaic requires everything happens at the same. You can't arbitrate cases where there are minor children. As a practical matter arbitration has become a dead letter.
REP. FOX: Yes please proceed
GAETANO FERRO: Okay, sorry, three minutes is tough. What we're simply suggesting is preserve the rule that custody and visitation never be arbitrated. Broaden arbitration to include financial matters related to children. It will ease the backlog on our courts. And again it's only by agreement anyway so if people don't want to arbitrate it they don't have to agree to it.
We are suggesting a technical amendment to 46b-81. In our state we have an anomaly. A court can divorce people without personal jurisdiction over both parties. In that case the court can't divide the assets of the parties. Many states like New York have provisions saying if the court dissolves the marriage and didn't have jurisdiction over the other spouse so it couldn't make a property division order, if it subsequently acquired jurisdiction, it can make the order at that time. That's what we're proposing. It seems to working, by the way, in New York.
We've talked about -- I'll come back to the guide -- to the suggested guidelines in a moment. We're trying to clarify the case law to provide that in hearing modifications the court determine whether there's a substantial change in circumstances and then look at all the statutory criteria and Attorney Barndollar addressed the death on appeal.
REP. FOX: Maybe I can ask you a question on some of the items you've mentioned so far and then I'm -- I expect there will be questions on the alimony. But the arbitration provision, I -- I do recall that and -- and when that -- that came about and it seemed like it made sense in family cases because, and I don't need to tell you, but there's so -- so much time spent in court waiting. There's so much time where you think you're going to go to trial and you find out you're not going to trial.
There's so much -- and -- and all of that costs money and -- and costs the clients money but I also -- I recognize when you have minor children it can be difficult to agree to allow an arbitrator to make those decisions but it is something that's done by agreement of the parties. Everybody's got to be on board with that.
But have you had the experience of arbitrating family matters? I'm sure you've spoken with attorneys who have at least attempted to do it. How has that worked?
GAETANO FERRO: I acted as an arbitrator once. The parties were elder, no minor children, this was not an issue. I've talked to a lot of lawyers. Maybe you have as well and the examples of family case arbitration are as rare as hen's teeth. I think I've come up with four or five talking to everybody I know. I don't know if you know more.
REP. FOX: Well no I just remember there was a lot of support for it initially do -- when -- when it was done and I think people wanted it and then I don't know -- but as you say it's not used very often.
GAETANO FERRO: And I think one of the reasons is most divorces involve children. You can't address child support in the arbitration. How does an arbitrator address alimony and property division without addressing child support consistent with the rule that this is a mosaic and it should all be done at the same time?
So you -- I don't know how many cases, 75, 80 percent, 90 percent of the cases involving minor children can't be arbitrated. Our proposal says, in effect, if they've agreed to custody and visitation, let all the financial issues be arbitrated. I suspect that would foster more arbitrations. It would be better for the people. They'd effectively be picking their own judge and it will be better for our over-burdened court system.
REP. FOX: Is -- is there a way to say -- I mean is the big concern about arbitration the issue of child support and that the child support guidelines and the requirement that the court have jurisdiction over -- and I'm wondering if that would be -- if -- maybe if there was -- you agree on custody visitation and the child support order and then -- I don't know argue about everything, I don't know.
GAETANO FERRO: But -- but you've done some of this yourself.
REP. FOX: Yes, yes.
GAETANO FERRO: You know how tough it is to agree to one component of the case in a vacuum without knowing what the rest of the components are.
REP. FOX: Yeah, okay.
GAETANO FERRO: And I suspect that's one of the reasons why we don't see arbitration.
REP. FOX: Yup, okay. And on the -- the other issue you mentioned with respect to jurisdiction, right now, and maybe you can just explain, what would happen if somebody does not have personal jurisdiction over a spouse yet they -- let's say the own real estate and they want to get divorced.
GAETANO FERRO: What would happen is they would get the divorce assuming they were in Connecticut for a year at the time of the commencement or a year at the time of the decree and the court couldn't do anything about the property.
The property would remain as it was, in his name or her name or joint names and even if the other party then later came to Connecticut and you acquired jurisdiction, the court still couldn't do anything as to the property.
What we're simply suggesting is hey if the person is stupid enough to come back into the state so that the court acquires jurisdiction, let the court divide that undivided property, that property that didn't have the jurisdiction to divide of an issue.
REP. FOX: And that's something that's comparable to what New York does?
GAETANO FERRO: New York has a statute --
REP. FOX: Okay.
GAETANO FERRO: -- which -- which allows it and New York statutes get a lot of complaints. That one I haven't heard complaints about.
REP. FOX: Okay well thank you for your answers on that.
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I actually had a question on the jurisdiction issue too. So your example would be somebody who is out-of-state. There's a divorce but we'll pretend it's the husband doesn't participate and the court has no jurisdiction over the property.
But as a practical matter, if there were other assets in the state, in your experience, doesn't the judge use those other assets to offset what the property might be that's outside the jurisdiction of the state so, you know, if -- if there were other assets. If there aren't, that's a problem but if there were, aren't judges able to address that now by --
GAETANO FERRO: By an in rem proceeding if there's an asset in Connecticut, yes.
REP. BARAM: Right.
GAETANO FERRO: But, you know, that only works if the asset in Connecticut is big enough that you don't care about the rest of the stuff: the New York bank account, the brokerage account, the vacation home in Florida, whatever. Is that some slight consolation but it doesn't work in a lot of cases and for reasons I don't know.
I gather you do a little family law from listening to you. 46b-46 gives jurisdiction over the non-resident as to alimony but not property. That's the problem.
REP. BARAM: For fear of -- of not taking too long, could you spend a few moments explaining to us how you came up with the guideline proposals if there's an abbreviated way of doing that?
GAETANO FERRO: That's what I'm going to try to do unless anybody has questions about the technical points I raised, no.
REP. BARAM: Okay.
GAETANO FERRO: Let me give youca little background. Let me talk about who I am and where I come from. I've been doing this for 34 years almost exclusively. Attorney Barndollar was wrong. The combined experience of the four of us I wish it was only 100 years. It's more like 140. I was the -- only the third oldest of the four people on the committee, Valvera and McLaughlin had me by a few years.
I had the good fortune of being president of the American Academy, the national organization president of the Connecticut chapter, chair of the family law section, a lot of other positions. I've spent a lot of time trying to improve the law for people. I've written, I've edited, I've lectured.
I didn't spend 10 years representing one discreet group of people. I've spent 34 years representing men and women and people who know me won't say I'm a man's lawyer or a woman's lawyer but they'll say I'm someone who really cares about making things better.
There's an elephant in the room here. Some people have sort of skirted by it and denied it but there is an elephant in the room and the elephant in the room is that alimony awards have a certain randomness to it. We can say aw there was a factor in this case and there was a factor in that case.
If you don't believe me that awards are random, do what I did last night preparing for this hearing. Go to Westlaw, go to Lois, go to a legal database, search Connecticut, search alimony, default search most recent cases. Just start reading cases. I pulled out about five than I said what's wrong here? Half an hour, now I speed read, maybe it might take you an hour to find those five. Maybe if I had spent six hours we would find a lot.
Going back 30 years ago I wrote an article for the Connecticut Law Tribune. The title was Rolling the Dice: Financial Orders in Connecticut Dissolution of Marriage. Now sometimes I'm dramatic, sometimes I overstate things. But I found even then there was an element of the roll of the dice and now things have changed.
Now we have an increasing number of self-represented parties. You're all extremely bright people. You're all extremely sophisticated people. Read the statutory criteria. Length of the causes to the breakdown, length to the marriage (inaudible). You're a self-represented party and you're saying should I pay alimony and how much.
What does the statute tell you? Nothing. Wrap that around enormous court congestion. Wrap that around a situation which has changed. In family law 20 years ago we had a cadre of family judges who devoted a life to family law and they got it and they amazingly were consistent in their decisions.
We still have some of those good judges. Judge Solomon, wonderful judge. He gets it. There's a consistency to his decisions. We have a situation where, you know, the new kid on the block, the public defender, the attorney -- the State's Attorney or the personal injury lawyer, the corporation counsel, guess what the first thing they get to do is? Sit on Family for a year before they even begin to understand -- because by the way they're reading the same statute, they decide I hate it, I want to move on, or they're shuffled onto criminal.
So we have -- we -- we wind up dealing with judges with relative inexperience. We wind up dealing with courts that are congested because of the number of cases and the number of self-represented parties and we wind up with these disparate random results. I'm not saying they're all bad. Many family law judges do well and make good decisions but too often for my taste, too often even for the members of the Connecticut Chapter who oppose this legislation, but when you sit around and talk to them they say yeah it is random. It doesn't work.
Now to get to your question. Where did the factors come from? Where did the formula come from? About a dozen years ago I was sitting on a committee of the American Academy, the national academy. We were addressing the AOI's principle of family law. We spent about a year on property division. We spent about a year on custody. We turned to their principles of alimony.
They said alimony should be compensatory. We rejected it. There were lawyers from South Carolina, Connecticut, Illinois, Northern California, Kansas, all over the country, men and women. I started venting my spleen about the inconsistencies and the -- that I saw in alimony orders in my state. Low and behold everyone around the room saw the same inconsistencies in their states. Good news is we tended to be a little higher than the rest.
But in any event, even within -- within that inconsistency, so we said what do we do? We went to work. We looked at the child support guide -- the alimony guidelines elsewhere and there are more than a few. When you read my materials you will see that there are guidelines for temporary alimony in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, New Mexico. There are guidelines for permanent alimony in Massachusetts, Maine and Tex -- and Texas. There are guidelines for permanent alimony in -- in Santa Clara County, California, Washtenaw County, Michigan, Maricopa County, Arizona, Johnson County, Kansas.
We looked at all of those that existed at that time. Massachusetts did not exist at that time. I don't think Michigan did but the rest were in existence. We actually -- we were real bored. We looked at the formulas. We analyzed them one at a time. Did they -- which ones seemed to make sense, which ones didn't seem to make sense? They were all over the place.
So we kicked around the room. How does it work in your case? And low and behold we acknowledged that experienced family lawyers like experienced family judges have rules of thumb. What's your rule of thumb? What's your rule of thumb? And I don't remember, 25 to 35 percent of gross if -- if the recipient is unable to work and we went back and forth.
Many of those lawyers, the lawyers from Kansas City, said gee that's a whole lot higher than we're doing but it ought to be that way. And we came to a consensus of what we thought was a fair alimony formula based upon our own experience and our sense looking at all and studying all these guidelines.
Which parenthetically we actually talked to people who were practicing law where the guidelines were and we said how is it working? We didn't have people complaining about it. We didn't have people saying oh judges are just doing the guidelines and it's -- it's ruined things.
And interestingly enough none of the guidelines have been repealed since 2005 -- excuse me 2006-2007 when we did the study. The study resulted in a report. The report was accepted by the American Academy in March of 2007. If you're interested I can give it to you. You can find it on AAM -- AAML website AAML.org, resources, alimony, considerations, that's the report.
There's a difference between what they proposed and what we proposed. What that group proposed, parenthetically somebody's going to tell you so I'll tell you, it was a 50/50 vote until the then president of the Academy broke the tie. So it was a close vote. A lot of people in that organization have probably (inaudible) but those were hard guidelines. Those were presumptive guidelines subject to deviation criteria.
When the four of us were going over what we should do here because we were all concerned about the state of the law, at least one of us was advocating a hard guideline, I'm nothing if not consistent, but we all went back and forth and there was the concern we hear expressed the judges will shut down and just apply the guideline even if there are deviation criteria.
So what we tried to do here was come up with statutory rules of thumb for the young judge who has no guidance, for the self-represented person who has no guidance, for the lawyers who used to do a lot of real estate and now are forced to do divorce. At least it's a starting point.
To answer your question about what if that, I'll use the word stupid judge, just does the formula, my answer is aren't we better off with him just or her just doing the formula than pulling a number out of the air?
REP. FOX: Um, Representative Baram, do you have a question?
REP. BARAM: I think it was -- was answered.
REP. FOX: Okay.
GAETANO FERRO: A couple of obser -- just a couple of requests. Please read Justice McLaughlin's testimony. Pl -- please read my testimony if you're having insomnia tonight. It must go on for about 30 or 40 pages but it gives a detailed analysis not really of our proposal but of all the cases which caused -- raised the concerns in making our proposal to technical types of changes and take a look at Attorney Chris Whitehead's testimony that Attorney Barndollar alluded to okay?
REP. FOX: Well thank you, Attorney Ferro, I think it was very helpful.
GAETANO FERRO: Okay.
REP. FOX: Thanks.
GAETANO FERRO: Thank you.
REP. FOX: Okay, next is Abby Anderson.
ABBY ANDERSON: Hello, good afternoon. My name is Abby Anderson. I'm the executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance which is a state-wide public policy and advocacy organization nonprofit working to reduce the number of children and youths involved in the criminal and juvenile justice systems and advocating a safe, effective and fair system for those involved and I think that's the last of my testimony I'm actually going to read because you've heard from a lot of folks this afternoon and I know you have -- have expressed a lot of questions so I've been furiously sort of just dumping everything and trying to address some -- some questions.
So we've heard questions about collaboration and ensuring that people are working together and the whole sort of germ for the idea of doing this came out of the idea of working with school districts and working -- you know we heard why aren't you doing top-down and from previous work we have really found that school districts in Connecticut are not a fan of top-down things. They like to be really involved and really engaged and have things be responsive to their local needs.
So we're really looking at this issue in light of that and being very respectful of that since every district is different and looked for districts who were interested and willing to sort of tackle this issue on their own and have found it to be incredibly helpful as you heard from some folks from Manchester and from Bridgeport. The conversations that folks have are really important.
When we were sitting in a room with the school board chair, the police chief and the school superintendent in a town that I won't name, they all said -- started talking about zero tolerance policies and sort of looked at each other and said now we're doing this because it's really important to you right? And the other one said no I thought you loved it and they had never had a conversation and ended up scrapping it because they realized nobody liked it; nobody thought it was a good idea but they'd never had the conversation.
So that's what we were trying to -- to really get at. The -- so in these communities that have done this, you know DCF, the courts, the police, the schools, parents, community providers have all come together and discussed what are the resources we have in our town to deal with different issues and how can we all use them well.
There's been comments about creating just one MOU for the entire state that we could just change the name of the town. We really believe that the MOU that the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, under Valerie LaMotte over at OPM, has done a fantastic job of coming up with a model MOU that allows for the different flexibilities for different towns that have different needs.
So for example one town might decide, you know, for lower level offenses we want to refer to a juvenile review board. So that will be written into their MOU. But another town might not have a juvenile review board so they would need something different that they could -- they could sort of cut and paste into that. That would -- might be analogous but isn't the same.
And we didn't want to get into a situation where it's well you say we have to report to an M -- JRB, we don't have one, so now this is an unfunded mandate because we have to create a JRB when there might be a -- a, you know, perfectly acceptable analogous way that they could look to do that.
And we have found that schools are really desperate for options and resources. They don't want to have to refer kids to court but in a lot of -- a lot of places the -- the situation and the climate that we have, not everywhere, but sometimes there -- there seems to be a real divide between schools and communities where schools just feel like they get blamed for everything.
You know why haven't you caught this? Why haven't you done this and these -- these groups have really been able to break down those barriers where the community is saying no not at all, how can we help you?
So that has been what we have found to be really great and the schools are just really excited about how they can find the different resources and have different ways to -- to move forward and we really like the idea of making sure that there is something in code written into the statutes that says you have to take a look at this.
Connecticut has one of the biggest achievement gaps in the nation as you know. We also know that kids in the -- in the poor districts in Connecticut are nine times more likely to be arrested than kids in the wealthier districts. That's not going to help our achievement gap issues.
So the reason to take a look and put this in law is the fact that the momentum is shifting on this issue, both in Connecticut and nationally, but only in communities so far where leaders have voluntarily stood up and said hey we want to address this. But there are some communities where it's a big problem and the -- the folks aren't looking at it.
So in closing we appreciate all the support that we've gotten from the -- the different communities around the state and we look forward to -- to working with you and them in the future and I'm happy to answer any questions now or whenever it bests fits your schedule.
REP. FOX: This might be a good time. I mean are there any questions for -- anybody?
REP. REBIMBAS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Again thank you for your testimony. I know we briefly -- you caught me in the hallway so we had a little chat. So I know the anticipation is that you're going to be sitting down and meeting with someone from the State Department of Education. So if you wouldn't mind just let us know how that goes because it's certainly something that we're interested in making sure that they're aware of it and maybe it certainly might be something that they'll be able to act on quicker.
ABBY ANDERSON: Absolutely we will do that. Thank you.
REP. REBIMBAS: Thank you.
REP. FOX: Thank you. And -- and one of the advantages to being here longer is you get to hear the other testimony and you can comment on that.
ABBY ANDERSON: Yes.
REP. FOX: It's -- this is a bill we passed out last year and it's good to hear that the people who supported it last year still support it because that makes -- it means it's still something that they feel is important and we may have questions as we go forward because some of it involves the gathering of information.
I know there was some questions about how we can do that and also what kind of a burden are we putting on local towns because we want to avoid doing that yet still hopefully support the -- the intent behind this bill.
ABBY ANDERSON: Right.
REP. FOX: So, okay, so thank you very much.
ABBY ANDERSON: Thank you.
REP. FOX: Kenneth Krajewski.
KENNETH KRAJEWSKI: Hello, I'm Kenneth Krajewski from Tolland, Connecticut. I am Antonio and Alexandria's dad, the two most important people in my life. I'd like to thank this Committee for raising this long overdue shared custody bill, 6685 as it will be four years this month that I have been alienated from my children and my children have been left fatherless.
As a result of an unqualified and negligent guardian ad litem, Mary T. Bergamini, shared parenting is ultimately the best interests of her children. I have spoken with some of you in the last few years one-on-one on some of these issues of negligent judges and guardian ad litems and unjust incarcerations of parents and veterans with disabilities which serves no purpose for the children's best interests.
The best interest is both fit parents. As a result of being exiled from my children and watching them go from love then pulling me apart every day excited to spend time with me to fish, to ride their quads, play sports and to see their extended family.
They were my life for 8 and 14 years prior. Watching them turn from love to hate has been extremely heartbreaking for me. To see my -- they have been manipulated, taught to fear everyone they once loved and have been psychologically kidnapped.
Psychological abuse in the form of parental alienation is child abuse. Because of this I founded Save Our Kids Parental Alienation Foundation in Connecticut and we're having our fourth annual candle vigil at the Capitol on National Parental Alienation Awareness Day April 25th.
Shared parenting and many of the effects of this -- abuses can be stopped. Child abuse can be eliminated. Many of the parents that I've met as a parental rights advocate would not have had to be incarcerated or spend five, ten, twenty years back and forth in court just to see their children and losing everything they own.
Most parents that I've met just want to be involved more in their children's life, their children are doing in school, how their safety and well-being is I can relate to all their stories. I hear hundreds of them that didn't need to happen but they're happening in courts every day.
I fought for two years for a trial to present overwhelming evidence and police reports that my children were in harm's way. Because I was so passionate about my children and the truth, I knew or thought the appointed guardian ad litem would be too.
It was ultimately the guardian ad litem's job to see the evidence and report it which she never did. I was prepared to have her talk to 20 witnesses yet my ex had only one and that was a convicted felon. I exposed the guardian ad litem for around $12,000 of falsified building -- billing. Then she tried to intimidate me with countless contempt charges for just trying to be with my children.
She solely turned me from a full-time dad to a visitor and a paycheck. Countless broken visitations -- am I able to continue?
REP. FOX: If you could just, you know, the -- the bell did go off. I mean I know you sat here all day so I'm trying to let you complete. If you could summarize that would be helpful.
KENNETH KRAJEWSKI: All right. It's just going to be -- it's just going to be a little bit more.
I reported these things to the guardian ad litem which she never reported to the courts. My son's first little league game she was told that my son was at his little league game and not in New York as my ex had told her but never reported that to the judge.
Another issue, Christmas day, my family brought a new quad to by children's house. The children's house was abandoned. The guardian ad nit -- ad litem knew where the children were and I had to go to Vernon police station to file a missing persons report and nothing was done.
These are the issues that parents have to deal with, especially non-custodial parents. It was just another ploy to keep control of my children and again the GAL never reported it.
Custodial parents try as hard as they can to be involved with their children and sometimes they go to school, they're treated like they're not the parents because the other parent has the power.
Guardian ad litems there has to be some kind of sanction and oversight review board on all the complaints as the abuses and parental interference is running wild in our courtrooms like cancer.
I'd really like to be part of the task force and give some more information to the Committee and help us where shared parenting, a lot of these issues will never happen and parents can be with their children at a closer rate of 40 to 50 percent.
REP. FOX: Well thank you. Thanks for your testimony today.
Are -- are there questions?
KENNETH KRAJEWSKI: Yes, sir.
SENATOR MEYER: I'm -- I'm sorry what you've gone through. I'm not sure this bill will necessarily help you though. The crux of this bill, as I understand it, is that the court will -- there will be a presumption that the court will give shared custody if the parents agree that there should be shared custody.
It sounds to me in your situation there's been a lot of separation, a lot of alienation. It's nothing that -- that the mother of your children is ever going to agree to.
KENNETH KRAJEWSKI: Yes sir, but the -- but the point of the guardian ad litem having a full choice of taking a parent's side which -- which they're supposed to be neutral. Many times they're never neutral. They're where the money is.
SENATOR MEYER: I see okay. I just -- I just didn't want you to think that this bill is necessarily going to help you. It's going -- it's going in the direction of shared custody but --
KENNETH KRAJEWSKI: Yes.
SENATOR MEYER: -- but the presumption in favor of shared custody depends upon the two parents agreeing. You know it -- it says in line 17 there shall be a presumption that shared custody is in the best interest of minor child where the parties have agreed to an award of shared custody.
So if you're -- if you're really not getting along with your ex and your ex is alienated against you, it's -- it's not likely -- you know the -- that presump -- that presumption in favor of shared custody is not going to -- not going to arise.
KENNETH KRAJEWSKI: Yes there is -- there is cases of hostile parenting which -- which mine is very but most other issues of other parents from now on can have that chance and -- and they will have more -- more say of their parents instead of more interference from guardian ad litems.
And most times when parents run out of money you are held without seeing your children until you pay that bill which is wrong.
SENATOR MEYER: Okay, thank you.
KENNETH KRAJEWSKI: Thank you.
REP. FOX: Thank you.
Are there other questions?
Thanks for your testimony today.
Next is Frank Maturo.
FRANK MATURO: Good afternoon.
REP. FOX: Good afternoon.
FRANK MATURO: My name is Frank Maturo. I live in Darien. I testified last year in favor of Bill 5509 to try and bring the divorce laws in Connecticut into the 21st century. We did not come out of Committee last year but we are thankful and appreciative to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Fox and Senator Coleman, in putting together a commission to study the alimo -- I say -- I say commission -- working group, working group to study the alimony statutes and make recommended changes.
We thank, in particular, members of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Klarides and Representative Baram, for being part of this working group and leading the effort on the bill.
I support the recommendations in both Bill 6688 & 1155. The working group bill of 6688 is good. We support it but would have liked to have seen further changes. However, there is some wording in there that I -- I would hope could move us toward eliminating lifetime alimony and giving all spouse -- all spouses a right to retire.
These bills are an important first step and a good start. It is great to see these bills have finally brought the alimony statues into the present day by using the term spouse instead of husband or wife. It is also significant to see statutes that give guidelines to amount of alimony. I thought section 5 (c) in Bill 1155 was a well-authored paragraph outlining a mathematical formula for calculating alimony even though I realize it's neither mandatory nor presumptive.
What we don't understand is why the working group and the sponsors of Bill 1155 didn't go further and put in another much needed paragraph outlining a mathematical formula for the duration of alimony. We are not against alimony but believe it should be awarded for a reasonable length of time based on the length of the marriage and the income and assets of the parties.
Everyone should have the right to retire and end payments without being impoverished. Today judgments differ wildly from county to county and judge to judge. I commend the working group and sponsors of Bills 6688 and 1155 for what they have put into these two bills, and fully support them coming out of the Judiciary and heading to the legislative floor.
Another positive was the change in wording in the cohabitation statutes. As I testified last year, this is the one area where even the most vociferous family lawyers against reform agree that the cohabitation laws, as they stand today, make no sense and need major improvement. Encourage people to form families, not live together indefinitely because one wants their ex-spouse to continue to keep making payments. The Bill 1155 makes worthwhile changes.
Many in the Family Law section of the CBA may be against these bills, in particular 1155. It is because more certainty and predictability on the outcome in a divorce is not what they want to see.
We have come together under The National Parents Organization in support of these two bills to improve the statutes related to the dissolution of marriage and award of alimony. It is very clear that with -- that with the group here supporting Bill 6685 regarding shared custody, that the family law -- law system in the State of Connecticut is broken. We said it last year and it is clear when you consider all three of these bills, the degradation in the family law courts has continued.
All these bills help reduce conflict, litigation, and acrimony, you've heard that before. That is what is most important as it relates to the children. It all comes back to the children at the end of the day. Improve the system, and given the prevalence of divorce, we improve countless lives.
Please pass Bill 1155 and 6688. Bills 1155 and 6688 were authored by thoughtful, knowledgeable and dedicated people who work within the system and understand the issues. There is no reason why both these bills should not move forward.
Thank you again for your time this year.
REP. FOX: Thank you, Mr. Maturo, and I know you've been here all day and I know you've been very involved in this issue and it's important to have your testimony today.
Are there questions?
REP. BARAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First I want to thank you, Mr. Maturo, for having the patience and staying here all day but even more importantly for coming before our group. While we may not agree on everything, I found your insight compelling and frankly it move -- helped move me in a direction to include some of the things in -- in our bill because of your testimony so I thank you and -- and I encourage you to, you know, continue your advocacy because I think you have, you know, some very sound ideas going forward and I enjoy listening to you and -- and working with you and I'm sure our paths will cross in the future but I thank you for the insight and the background that you gave us.
FRANK MATURO: Thank you, Representative Baram, those are very nice comments and I very much appreciate them and I -- I know you -- you worked hard on this -- in this working group and -- and appreciate what -- what came out of it. Thank you.
REP. FOX: Thank you again, Mr. Maturo.
Are there any questions or comments?
SENATOR MEYER: It's kind of interesting in one -- I'm -- I'm looking at Senate Bill 1155 and I'm looking at the provision that says that neither spouse shall be liable for the debts of the other spouse contracted before the marriage nor upon the other spouse's contracts made after the marriage.
I've seen situations where, before marriage, a man and woman live -- living together and one spouse is going to graduate school and the other spouse is paying -- they're not spouses, I'm sorry, before they get married, they're living together. One person is going to graduate school and the other person, the other partner, is paying the cost of graduate school.
That -- that makes it a little bit difficult -- murky here when you talk about this -- this situation because this -- this is providing that -- that neither spouse will be liable for the debts of the other spouse contracted before the marriage and if -- and very often, in that kind of pre-marital situation, the -- the spouse -- I'm sorry the partner who is paying the bill for graduate school should get credit and does currently, as -- as I see it in court, for -- for -- you know putting the money in and making the investment that -- that allowed the other person to go to graduate school and therefore have a -- a good career.
So I -- I just -- I mention that issue to you and don't know if you have any comment about it.
FRANK MATURO: I -- I do not. I was not part of the group that put together Bill 1155 but, you know, clearly we believe that there are -- there are -- are things in both these bills, 1155 and 6688 and -- and why I would recommend that they both come out of Committee here because I realize not everyone agrees with all that's in 1155 or all that's in 6688 but I think if they both come out there could be an opportunity for a compromise and negotiation that really improves the statutes which ever -- like everyone here has said are literally 40 years old. They're literally 40 years old.
The change from spouse -- the change from husband and wife to spouse that's -- you know that -- that's a -- that's a layup, right? That's like -- that's the -- that's the napkin they give you when you go into the restaurant.
I mean that's an easy one but there's other things that I think we can -- we can certainly improve upon.
REP. FOX: Thank you, Senator Meyer.
And thank you again, Mr. Maturo. It's a -- I know this is an issue you feel very strongly about and I also think -- I hope that having heard everybody here you understand how we hear from people who have a lot of experience in this issue who are on all sides of it but I do think awareness is being made and that people are coming together somewhat. I'm not sure they're going to completely get together but I think they are coming together somewhat and we're -- you know -- some -- there's more of a chance of doing something.
FRANK MATURO: Right and we appreciate you trying to make that happen. Thank you, Representative.
REP. FOX: Thank you, okay.
Jean-Pierre Bolat and after you is Lorri Cavaliere.
JEAN-PIERRE BOLAT: Mr. Chairman and esteemed members of the Committee, thank you for allowing me to be here. I'm here in support of H.B. 6685 and I've come here today to testify about my experience in the family court system and more importantly the expensive toll that it takes on our families and especially our children.
By way in introduction I'm a retired naval officer and I've been -- I've had the honor of serving my country and defending our Constitution for the last 24 years and I'm proud to be here today in front of you.
Like many of my colleagues here today, my children and I are victims of this corrupt system where lawyers, family relations bureaucrats and judges care more about clocking time against expensive retainers and maintain their political relationships than enforcing the rule of law and supporting the best interests of the children.
Since entering into the system in -- in May of 2010, I've lost over $125,000 to lawyers and had to cash in my life savings to support my children. And because I wouldn't put my parents house on the street -- or put my parents out on the street and sell their house, I was rebuked by my attorney who already took $80,000 of my money and he challenged me how committed are you to this.
When I refused to sell my parents house, he then conned me into appearing pro se one month prior to my trial because he didn't want to look bad in front of the judge for dropping me.
I'd like to now briefly talk about the GAL. Assigned by mutual agreement of both lawyers and the judge, he saw my children one time for approximately 15 minutes and has charged over $20,000. Thinking that he was supposed to represent the best interests of my children, I emailed him dozens of times recounting incidents of alienation, emotional abuse and contempt.
You know the standard lines in every parenting plan which state the following and I quote from my parenting plan: the parents shall exert every reasonable effort to maintain free access and unhampered contact between their children and each of the pair -- each of the parties to foster a feeling of affection between their children and the other party. Neither party shall do anything which may estrange their children from the other party nor injure the opinion of the children as to their mother or father nor act in any way as to hamper the free and natural development of their children's love and respect for the other party.
Rather than support me and the best interests of my children, the GAL repeatedly said to me what do you want me to do? And then when I finally took my wife -- my ex-wife to court for contempt last year, he remained silent when the judge asked him the last time he'd seen the children.
Yet he still billed me thousands and though the judge ruled in my favor, in favor of my motion on alienation, she failed to apply any sanctions or means to hold my ex-wife accountable and the bad behavior continues to this day.
So what's the toll on -- what's been the toll on my family? I'm now over $250,000 in debt. My children and I have not taken a vacation in years. Hundreds of thousands of dollars I saved over the length of my career for my children is gone. All three children have been in and out of therapy. We are currently on our fifth therapist and until last month my daughter had not slept over my home for nearly a year and a half.
We've lost a lot of cuddling and father/daughter time. But my story is no different than hundreds or even thousands of others and I am extremely saddened to hear stories today of more children that are kept away from their parents. The largest toll is on the children.
Our children have an inalienable right to be loved by both parents and to love both parents. And except in cases of abuse and neglect, our government must do what it -- what it can to ensure our children's rights are maintained. Since the family court system has failed us, we must look to legislation to protect the rights of our children.
And this bill is a step in the right direction. The key, however, to any legislation is accountability and enforcement. I strongly urge this Body to support every child's right to love his or her parents and to have routine access and time with both parents and if either parent impedes upon that right, there must exist stringent, undisputable and enforceable consequences or sanctions. Without such enforceable sanctions this effort is naught and our children will continue to suffer.
Thank you very much.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you, sir.
Are there questions?
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you.
You know I'm so happy that -- that finally somebody came up to the light and to expose this kind of problem. I know that -- like I said before earlier today I was involved like last year, maybe two years ago I started getting involved in this issue and it was like my God like a -- like a wall there.
And we tried and -- and we met with -- with these females and -- and it was like they were so scared to come up publically and say something because they would say that -- they would -- all of them they were saying if we go out there, especially to the Legislature, we're going to have problems in court.
But -- but you know finally I think that this is -- this is good. For all those people to be going through so many problems and it was like nobody was listening.
And -- and even though that -- that I went and I knocked on doors and I talked to some people, they were saying we can't believe that this is going on. It was like impossible. Like they were saying no it can't be true because this is like a clique and it's -- everybody's involved. It's the GAL, it's the bastards, it -- it -- everybody's involved.
And it was so hard, you know, and -- and I'm say -- I was saying my God I can't believe that this is going on in our state.
But I'm so happy -- so happy for -- for you and for all of, you know, the ones that came here today and for the ones that have been dealing with even though -- that -- that it was a reporter that followed some of these cases for years, for two years, because in the beginning the -- the reporter didn't even believe that this was going on in the state. And finally after two years he proved that it was -- you know he got so many -- helped somebody prove it and he met with so many people that finally after two years he came up with a big article in the paper and even though there was some people, you know, elected or whatever, they -- they didn't -- they didn't agree and -- and they didn't believe that this was going on.
But thank you, thank you very much for coming out today, thank you.
JEAN-PIERRE BOLAT: Thank you, Ma'am, and I thank Senator Fasano for his leadership and also Jerry Mastrangelo for making -- making this very known in the state.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there other members with questions?
If not, thank you very much for your testimony.
JEAN-PIERRE BOLAT: Thank you very much.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Lorri Cavaliere.
LORRI CAVALIERE: Yes. Good evening.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Good evening.
LORRI CAVALIERE: I think it's evening. My name is Lorri Cavaliere and I am here to support Bills 1155, 6688 and 6685 on shared custody, parental alienation and the much needed GAL oversight.
I believe time is of the essence for reform. The minds and lives of children involved are at stake. I recently attended several court hearings to support my good friend in his long fight for the court-ordered right to see his children. He had a wonderful loving relationship with his three children up to and after his divorce. As part of his divorce, it was stipulated that both parents share custody and a schedule was put in place, in writing.
Soon after, his ex-wife began making excuses for the children, making it difficult, often impossible, for my friend to share in the parenting. She said that the children didn't want to be with him and soon they were shunning him as if he were a stranger. What his ex-wife actually succeeded in doing was to make a mockery of the family court system proving that their custody agreement was simply a worthless piece of paper.
It was shown in testimony from medical expert witnesses that his ex-wife was not interested in following court orders regarding reunification therapy and it wasn't enforced. It was shown that while his ex-wife could insist that her children perform simple tasks such as bathing and brushing their teeth, she could not -- she would not/could not insist that they see their father.
The children resorted to demeaning their father on the phone and calling him names such as jerk, idiot, stupid, among others, with no admonishment whatsoever by their mother.
The GAL and the AMC involved certainly did not have the best interests of the children in mind. Their only concern voiced was that their bills were not being paid in a timely manner. There was no explanation for all the lost notes of meetings with the children, nor a demand for one from the judge, except for one one-hour session, despite this being a primary responsibility of the GAL.
In the end, the family court system lost sight of their charge. Whenever possible, children should be given the benefit of the love and nurturing of both parents. If the courts do not care enough to hold a parent responsible for not following a written, signed custody agreement, why even bother? I sincerely believe the children were secretly hoping that the court would force them to reestablish a relationship with their dad.
If it happened that way, their mother couldn't be angry with them, and they could let go of the guilt that their mother was forcing them to bear.
At the end of the court hearing, it was clear that the whole thing was a sad farce. The only winners in the end were the attorneys and the GAL who left with much richer pockets as well as an ex-wife who laughed at the system and her defiance of it. How could this be allowed to happen?
After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, an immeasurable amount of time and effort to reclaim his rightful role of father, my friend, a truly wonderful and loving man and father, left a beaten man. Even his own attorney convinced him to walk away, letting him believe that by dragging the case on, it would only cost him more money and in the end he would most assuredly lose his case.
The losers were his children, and the friends of the children who were closely watching. They took with them a scary lesson that it's okay to thumb your nose at the system because the system really doesn't care.
Yes, there needs to be more education for those entrusted with the well-being of our children but there also needs to be oversight and checks and balances of the courts themselves.
Bill 6685 supports the oversight and penalties for any parent defying a court order or making false statements. I urge you to support this bill. It's the right thing to do for all our children.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there questions?
Seeing no questions, we appreciate your testimony.
LORRI CAVALIERE: Okay.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Ann Smith.
ANN R. SMITH: Good evening, Senator Coleman --
SENATOR COLEMAN: Good evening.
ANN R. SMITH: -- and members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Ann Smith. I'm the interim executive director of AFCAMP. I want to thank you for the opportunity to comment on proposed Bill No. 6682.
AFCAMP is a parent-driven nonprofit organization whose central mission is to educate, empower, and support parents of children with disabilities who reside primarily in the cities of Hartford and New Haven. On behalf of AFCAMP parents and youth, I am here today to speak in support of this proposed legislation to require school districts choosing to place police officers in their school to adopt formal policies or Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) with their local police departments. Such policies and MOAs can help school and police personnel collaborate in a manner that addresses safety concerns while contributing to a positive educational environment and establishing safeguards against unintended consequences.
Police presence in schools has been a long-established practice in many urban communities across the country. It is a familiar occurrence in several local school districts in which we work with parents of students with behavioral and emotional special needs.
Particularly where students are Black or Latino, having police stationed in schools raises serious concerns about how school personnel and police respond to conduct that is a manifestation of the student's disability. Students with disabilities have federally guaranteed rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Any child with a disability is entitled to a manifestation determination meeting before the school district can make a change in their placement such as removing them from school on account of their conduct. If police are involved in school disciplinary matters, and we have seen this occur, in particular for low level offenses, the rights of children with disabilities to a manifestation determination are often infringed upon.
While recognizing the important goal of school safety for all children, the AFCAMP mission and our awareness of the reality of undesirable and unintended consequences of police presence in schools, constrain us to be wary of expanding this practice.
Proposed Bill 6682 provides a mechanism to balance school safety, as it is envisioned by increased police presence in schools, with safeguards against unintended consequences.
AFCAMP is one of several organizations working with the Center for -- Center for Children's Advocacy on a Disproportionate Minority Contact Reduction Pro -- Project that seeks to reduce the number of school-based arrests for minor offenses and the disproportionate impact on youth of color.
School-based arrests are a major factor in the proliferation of the school-to-prison pipeline, a phenomenon in which children of color are disproportionately and unnecessarily referred to law enforcement by schools. One of the DMC strategies that has yielded promising results in reducing the number of school-based arrests is the adoption of MOAs between schools and police similar to what is proposed in the legislation before you.
As a result of the important work that's been done, especially in the City of Hartford around school-based arrests, the DMC project has resulted in nearly a 60 percent reduction in the number of school-based arrests compared to the previous school years and this is based on data that's provided by the Court Support Services Division of the Judicial Branch.
AFCAMP urges you to act favorably on Proposed Bill No. 6682. If AFCAMP can be of further assistance as you consider this legala -- legislation, please feel free to contact me.
Thank you for your time and attention.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you for your time.
Are there questions for Ms. Smith?
I don't see any questions but as an aside coincidently yesterday I was going through some papers in my office, of which there are quite a few, but I had a chance to re-read my last correspondence with Mirva Jackson and I know how important she was to your organization and I think we both agree it is quite a void to be filled with her passing.
ANN R. SMITH: Thank you, thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: So I want to make that comment and congratulate you for the work that you do and keep up the -- the good job and thank you for your time today.
ANN R. SMITH: I appreciate that sentiment, thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Um-hum.
ANN R. SMITH: Thank you to the Committee.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Louis Keifer is next.
LOUIS KEIFER: Senator Coleman, Representatives, my name is Louis Keifer. I'm a family law attorney working out of Hartford. First of all Senator Meyer pointed out one of the -- I'm in support of the shared parenting bill but not as drafted.
I think that the presumption should be shared parenting whether or not the parties agree to it. That's a major defect in the - in the bill as I see it.
Now according to the National Vital Statistics Report for the year 2012, the number of births, by race and Hispanic origin in Connecticut, were as follows: white 23 percent to single mothers; Hispanic 65 percent; blacks 69 percent. Who are -- who will take care -- who will father those children?
Well we know that the abusive boyfriend that lives with mom might be one of the -- the father figures. We know that the state, through its welfare, may take over supporting those children. We know that the Juvenile Court System, the -- DCF, eventually the prison system and eventually the mental health community will be providing for the services for these people who were not raised with a father in an intact family.
That's tragic and I don't know what the solution is. But what's even more tragic and when you have fine fathers who want to be involved in their children's lives who are prevented because of the court system from playing a role and providing a role model for these children.
You've heard some of these fathers, eloquent, established, hard working and yet they are being deprived. Now the system is broken and I -- Representative Gonzalez, this is from one of your constituents. It was an email that he received.
The plaintiff said that she can do anything she wants and the courts and social workers will believe her. Number two men have no rights. Number three the plaintiff will only see the children when she permits it and only when she feels like it. Number four there is nothing that a blank hole judge or social worker can do and number five I can ask for more child support and screw you some more.
That wasn't by a man who feels that he has been disengaged from the system. That is from a woman that knows the system is rigged in her favor and that is unconscionable.
Now let's talk about what some of the problems are because they're all interrelated. First of all the pursuit of perfection denies adequate fathers the right to access of their children. Now what do we mean by that? It means that because we want quote the best interest as if there's a gold standard; that of the two parents one is superior we can exclude the other parent.
So that is the -- the number one problem is that the best interest standard is not a standard that permits both parents to operate. That is why we need shared parenting.
Number two, in order to find who is the best parent we have to go through all the -- the tests. Let's have a guardian ad litem. We don't care that the father can't afford his own lawyer but we'll make him pay a -- probably 50 percent of a guardian's fee just because we want the best interests of the children protected.
And maybe there's a problem. Well let's hire a psychologist or a psychiatrist to investigate further, more money being shuffled in -- down the drain.
So my time is up but I did -- just want to point out that three states have a -- require, Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma, the presumption of shared parenting shall apply to pendente lite orders and then if you want the court to look at quote the best interests fine. But I think that is a -- a step in the right direction.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there questions?
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you.
You know, sir, I -- I do agree with a lot of things that you just said and I would like honestly to verify that that's from one of my constituents. I would like to see that and I would like -- I would like to be sure that that's from one of my constituents female in my district, that's one.
And second when you said for these people that are being raised -- being raised without a father. For these people those are kids, sir, and I think that the way you say it, I didn't like it for these people. Those are kids, sir.
LOUIS KEIFER: I know it.
REP. GONZALEZ: Okay but -- but that -- then next time around you should first think (inaudible) say those are kids. For these people it sounds like really bad. I didn't like it and -- and not that I don't agree with you in a lot of things because I know that this problem being -- being -- I've been dealing with this for -- for years now and it's not that I don't -- I don't disagree with you because I agree with you. I -- I disagree with you the -- the way that you express yourself for these people.
And also I would like to be sure that that letter is from one of my constituents if you don't mind.
LOUIS KEIFER: I will -- I will with your permission write his name on a piece of paper and hand it to you.
REP. GONZALEZ: Oh yes and the address because from my district -- I -- I represent one district in Hartford. I don't represent the whole -- the whole city. But still even if it is from one of my people, I would like to see it.
LOUIS KEIFER: I -- I think if you see the name you'll recognize it.
REP. GONZALEZ: Yes.
LOUIS KEIFER: All right and -- and I -- I know made -- I've made no intentional offense.
REP. GONZALEZ: Okay.
LOUIS KEIFER: I just want these children, no matter who they are, to be raised with access to both parents. I think (inaudible).
REP. GONZALEZ: And we know, sir, that Hispanics and African-Americans some of our kids are not raised by the father. I know that but it's a little bit hard sometimes and we know that. I don't think that nobody has to rub that in our face here. That's -- that's the other thing.
But I agree with you again I will say because we know that it's a problem and we have to resolve that and I think that we should get involved because for years I've been trying to see if we can get some help for this issue and I know that you're right.
The kids they have the -- the right -- you're right they -- the kids have the right to -- you know to spend time with both the mother and the father, I know that.
LOUIS KEIFER: Yes and we know that even though they are single mothers, they're living with the fathers and -- and you know I don't have those statistics but the -- un -- unfortunately we -- we really have to address this issue of having children, whether their parents are married or not, to have access to their parents.
REP. GONZALEZ: And also I would like to add to that that we have a lot of kids out there and a lot of -- a lot of parents, African-Americans and Latino like you said, that we raised the kids by ourself and some of us were lucky that maybe the kids don't end up in jail or whatever. But some of us that we have to go through hell raising our kids but it's not our fault. It's not the mother that is raising the kids by themselves. It is not their fault. You know the -- so --
LOUIS KEIFER: And -- and that's why I -- I pointed out that where are the fathers involved and how can we get them involved on many of these -- these births?
REP. GONZALEZ: Yeah because you know what we have in -- in all communities we have the same. It's not a difference between one community -- the other -- the -- the only difference is between the African-Americans and Latinos and maybe the Anglos is resources, is resources.
That's a lot -- there's a big difference in our community because we have also kids they're being raised by non-Latinos and not African-Americans and they end up in jail. So you know we have problems like in all communities.
LOUIS KEIFER: Sure.
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you.
LOUIS KEIFER: Okay.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there others with questions?
Seeing none, I want to make -- maybe I have a question for you but probably a comment but I would like your response because I agree with so much of what you've said including the statement that the system is rigged in favor of the -- the female and the mothers. I think that's an unfortunate fact that I also observe.
What I can envision is at least in respect to the motions for joint custody, the judges will say that joint custody relies upon a certain amount of cooperation between the parents and where that cooperation doesn't exist they have no choice but to award custody to one parent or the other.
And I can see a similar argument being made against an initiative for shared parenting or shared custody. What would your response be to that argument?
LOUIS KEIFER: My response is that if the court defines the time that the children are with each parent, that there are very few arguments as to the other decisions that are usually made. In other words if the -- the school says okay the child is going to live let's say in -- in Bloomfield, then the child will go to the Bloomfield school. That's already been decided.
If they say that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and every other weekend they'll be with partner -- or -- with parent A, then that -- that's all right and we don't have to decide. But the fact is that once you have parity, then it makes it easier to negotiate what is best for the children because it's in both of your interests.
In other words it might not be your day but you want to switch days you've got days to switch. And I think, if anything, it -- it encourages cooperation if there is a parity. Where you have now in which one party has all the power, for example in joint custody, it's supposed to be equal decision-making.
But the courts are very often saying but the final decision-making will be with mom and when that happens mom doesn't even have to ask dad. She's got all the power so dad has no negotiating power to say well what about this or what about that. You know what about a tattoo, I -- I don't want her -- my daughter to get a tattoo. Doesn't matter, you heard the judge I've got ultimate des -- res -- decision-making.
So I think that this encourages it rather than discourages it.
SENATOR COLEMAN: And -- and I agree with so much of what you said. I've experienced a considerable amount of frustration in a case that I've handled where mom has been involved in actual perjured testimony in dictating that dad was responsible for daycare expenses that didn't even exist because she was a part of the Care 4 Kids program. Forged court orders where she actually removed the body of a court order and put in her own words suggest -- not suggesting but actually indicating that dad's access should be limited not -- well completely eliminated at the daycare center where the chil -- the child was so that dad would not have any information or access to the child.
Judges knew this, guardian ad litems knew this. Nobody has done anything about it despite initiatives on the part of dad in order to get someone to respond to these. There's been virtually no sanction or punishment that's been pos -- imposed against mom for perjury or forgery and various other bad acts.
I guess my frustration has been with what I just indicated to you as a response from the judge. At a certain juncture the judge indicates that if the parties demonstrate that they cannot get along, then he'll have no other option but to award sole custody presumably to the mom I'm sure he's thinking.
With the behavior that was already demonstrated by mom, that was just an open-ended invitation for her to continue not getting along or not cooperating with dad so that at some juncture the judge would step in and say you guys aren't getting along so I'm going to have to make this decision.
And my added frustration is that there is so much attention given, particularly to minority dads, suggesting that they're not interested in being a part of the lives of their children and this is the situation that I know first-hand where dad wants very badly to be a part of the child's life and it's mom who is thwarting that effort.
But the system doesn't even pause to recognize that. You would think that the system, for as much as it's been critical of minority dads who maybe have not been as involved as they should be where one is attempting to do that, you would think that there would be some support from the system in order to accomplish that and I found nothing unfortunately to commend the system for in this particular case.
LOUIS KEIFER: That has been my experience. As a matter of fact in my prepared remarks I was going to say that the worst difficulty is representing a person who is innocent but has been falsely accused of either domestic violence or sexual abuse. The second worst client to do a good job for is the single black parent, the father that wants to have contact with his infant and the judge usually responds by saying sir what do you know about infants as if every hospital grills the mother before they release the child home to see what she knows about infants.
Then they say well what about -- do you -- is there a female in your house as if men are incapable of taking care of babies. And then the third question is what kind of facilities do you have for a baby? And then the fourth thing is well we better appoint a guardian ad litem to go look at your premises and make sure it's good enough for a -- a six month old child and that is rampant you're absolutely right.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there any other members?
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you for the second time.
I have another comment here. And -- and I would like to say that it's not only the judge's goal or the guardian ad litem's goal just against, you know, the father. I know there are a lot of cases out there against the father but we -- I also saw a lot of cases two years ago and last year against the mother.
So this is something that is not against just the fathers. This is dependent of wherever the judge decides or -- or the guard -- the guardian ad litem to go.
If they decide to go and protect or -- or go and -- and go with the mother than the father is going to be paying the price and if that -- if they go against the -- the opposite than the other person is going to end up paying the price.
So this is a huge problem that we have. One way or the other, going against the father, going against the mother, this is a huge problem and -- and I would like to say that this problem -- somebody brought up this problem a couple of years ago and it was like nobody wanted to believe that this was going on. People didn't believe that this was serious and it was happening.
So that's why I'm saying that I'm happy that you guys came in and brought this issue because this issue was discussed here a couple of years ago.
LOUIS KEIFER: Um-hum.
REP. GONZALEZ: And -- and I hope that this time around we can do something about it.
LOUIS KEIFER: I hope you can too. Thank you.
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Jennifer Verraneault.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Hello, good evening.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Good evening.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: I'm Jennifer Verraneault. I live in East Haven and I'm actually a certified guardian ad litem not that I wanted to make that my career, because I have a career, but I wanted to learn what the roles and the responsibilities were of a guardian ad litem because I witnessed some unbelievable behavior by a guardian ad litem in the New Haven court system.
So I took the class in 2011 and I loved it. By the time I finished my trainer -- both trainers said you need to go to law school, you need to (inaudible) and I said wait a second why do I have to be a lawyer to be a guardian ad litem?
Well because nine -- about 95 percent of them are lawyers. So the first day I'm in class, there's 200 people at Quinnipiac getting certified, and the computer is up, playing Black Jack or playing cards, answering emails, all these things because I could see them all. Not everybody but a lot.
So one of the trainers, after Judge Monroe asked does anybody know the difference between an AMC and a guardian ad litem? No one had the answer and these are the very people that have been protecting the best interests of our children in the State of Connec -- Connecticut for I don't know how long okay?
I knew what the answer was because I studied and he said, and I think his name was Steve Dembo or something, really he -- he said -- he was really upset and he said did anybody read the -- the homework assignment that we had? Obviously nobody did. So anyway that's how the class started.
Then I -- as I learned more of what the responsibilities were, you know, I was like gosh, you know, I can't believe that someone dear to my heart with three beautiful children that I've been involved with for the last six years has a guardian ad litem that has not done her job.
And I know that this bill is about shared parenting but the thing is is that if we don't get the guardian ad litems under control, nothing is going to work because the person that has this guardian ad litem was told by four attorneys you will never get a guardian ad litem thrown off your case so don't even try it, okay?
This is what they gave us one of the first days. It's the only motion that a guardian ad litem can file with the court and it says, just one area, I pre -- I represent to the court that this is an urgent matter affecting the children either regarding the safety of the children or regarding compliance with existing court orders. I sat here all day and I heard a lot of people talk about they have guardian ad litems and they also contempt mod -- contempt issues with one parent. Why is this not being filled out? I don't know.
I actually contacted the guardian ad litem in the middle of taking the course that was on this case in our family. I called her. I got her bill. It's a $20 bill for returning my phone call, not her, her secretary, to ask me what did I want to talk to this guardian ad litem about.
I said you know I really would like to just talk to her about my perception with the children and their father. I have been involved in their lives for the last five years and I know that they love their father and I -- I have a different perspective that I can share.
Judge Monroe said in the training in -- in a Family Commission meeting that I attended about four of them which I don't blame the Commission. I don't really blame the judges. I really put a lot of the blame on the guardian ad litem because I have to believe that when I sat through the Commission meetings, the Family Commission, everyone that's on it they were trying to figure out how to fix this problem. For two years they've had it on their agenda about guardian ad litems and what their role is and how people don't know what they are.
Okay so this guardian ad litem is suppos -- and every guardian ad litem, as Judge Monroe said in -- in the meeting, at the Commission meeting and at the GAL training, their job is to investigate and report back to the court, to the judge, on what their findings are.
I don't know why a guardian ad litem needs to charge $300 for being an investigator, okay? It's only preventing parents their due process because they can't afford to fight -- I'm sorry the -- the bell.
But can I just say a couple of more things about this guardian ad litem because it's not just our story. We set up a Facebook page, a website, we've had bill boards on the highway throughout Connecticut. We -- we've been on radio shows. We've been on the TV. We've had a lot of exposure to our case. We've had people come out of the woodwork who have already walked away as you've heard some people here.
They've given up their parental rights because they emotionally and physically cannot handle the fight and why should you have to choose. Do I spend $250,000 to get a chance of seeing my child and having the -- everybody, you know, enforce these court issues -- court -- court orders or do I walk away?
Parents are walking away. They can't help it, okay? So this guardian ad litem never called me back but I got a $20 bill, my significant other saying that they called. We're in court six months later, I went up to the guardian ad litem I said, I don't want to say her name, I said well I don't understand why didn't you call me? Why didn't you want to talk to me because the -- the role of a guardian ad litem, I can say very confidently because I got my certification, is to investigate and report back to the court.
Why would you not want to talk to someone who is around these children 95 percent of the time when they're with their father who has 40 percent custody of these children. She goes Jennifer I called you, I have a witness, the reunification therapist was standing there. I go no you didn't, she goes yes I did.
She said to me four times she called me and I -- I would not back down. I said no you didn't. She goes well I thought I did and she walked away.
Guess what after I put it on, you know, our Facebook page and exposed her, we're in court last -- a couple of weeks ago, she said to me oh no I'm mistaken I didn't call you back my secretary called you back. I go that's what I told you, because I told her that, your secretary.
So then she says to me -- I said okay so let's say your secretary did call me back because I told you she did, why didn't you want to talk to me or meet with me? Because I didn't think it was relevant. How is that -- how is she -- and she has immunity. You cannot go after someone. How are they not doing a job? It's clearly stated what their job description is. So how do they get immunity, no liability, no accountability but yet they get $300 an hour and if you don't pay it, I learned in the training, they'll -- they'll lean -- put a lien on your house. They'll put you in jail.
Here's her bill, $50,000, and the AMC gets what $40,000 and he still doesn't have his kids. They beat him up for nine hours on March -- on March 18th in New Haven on the third floor. At quarter to five he said I've done all of this, I'm not walking away from my children. His attorney said, you know what, you're going to be spending another quarter of a million dollars and you're not going to be anywhere near where you want to be.
His eyes were red. This is a man who is a smart businessman. He doesn't make impulse decisions. He's a good man. His eyes were red. He was emotionally drained. Quarter to five he goes in front of Judge Gould and he says I'm not signing this.
Have you ever heard of a judge allowing someone to go into his chambers and even use his bathroom, okay? This is what the tactics are in New Haven. It was quarter to five. He said I'm not signing it. I want a motion for continuance. He was bullied for another hour in the Judge's chamber. As a matter of fact all of us were in the court waiting for him to leave. We knew that they were emotionally bullying him to get this -- get this signed.
And guess what ended up happening, he didn't even read it. He was so upset he just wanted to get out of there. He signed away everything. They didn't want him to even walk through courtroom before he signed it to go the bathroom. They said you know what you don't want to go out there you're family is out there. Use the Judge's bathroom.
This is what's going on in New Haven, Connecticut and I know everyone -- you --you've never been there and when I first got involved with this I was like oh my God this -- this can't be happening, this is crazy. When we get calls and emails from people that tell us their story, I can't help but think what did they do? What did they do that their kids don't want to see them, the AMC doesn't like him, the -- the GAL doesn't -- whatever.
But really it's a problem and -- okay I'm sorry I'm going on and on but there really is problem, really a problem.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there questions?
Senator Kissel and then Representative Gonzalez.
SENATOR KISSEL: I just want to say thank you and I apologize I have to leave early but I will be in touch with the other leaders of the Committee regarding other folks testimony but --
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Okay.
SENATOR KISSEL: -- it's very important that you're here telling us because, you know, I'm thinking should I go and sit in this courtroom for a day and not let anybody know and just hang out in the back and see what's going on.
And I'm going to tell you that probably 16 years ago or thereabouts I was instrumental in getting guardian ad litems in Connecticut.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Um-hum.
SENATOR KISSEL: It seemed like a really good idea to get someone out there to protect the interests of the child and I think for a long time it seemed to work without a problem. What I'm sort of picking up here today and it seems to be geographically based a little bit. But also it's been a difficult economy, a difficult economy on attorneys.
And if all of a sudden you now have this gig where if you get appointed it's 300 bucks an hour and I know people in private practice and, you know, you're lucky if get $400 for a real estate closing and those just aren't happening like they were five years ago.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Um-hum.
SENATOR KISSEL: Have we inadvertently created a cottage industry for some folks that are completely protected from any kind of responsibilities? So I think the study of that whole situation that's before us today, I think after a period of time we do have to circle back, benchmark, find out if things are working out appropriately and -- and just hearing what you said, I think that that was really important because you went and you were certified.
You are as close to an objective observer. I know that you're involved in a case.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Um-hum.
SENATOR KISSEL: But it's not like you're just involved in a case and you're just talking from what you saw --
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Um-hum.
SENATOR KISSEL: -- the fact that you took the time to take the training and so that you know what's supposed to be going on --
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Um-hum.
SENATOR KISSEL: -- is sort of like an undercover agent.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Yeah.
SENATOR KISSEL: And so that's very helpful because --
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Thank you.
SENATOR KISSEL: -- that's -- we're here in Hartford. We -- we do have a -- we have tried to go out into the community to have public hearings but unless you folks take the time -- it's a participatory government --
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Um-hum.
SENATOR KISSEL: -- we can't be everywhere all at once.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Right.
SENATOR KISSEL: And so your testimony is very, very valuable and I appreciate you taking the time.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Thank you kindly. One comment before you leave?
SENATOR KISSEL: It's up to the Chairs.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: When I was listening -- oh can I or no?
SENATOR KISSEL: It's up -- I'm -- I'm fine. I'm not leaving until you actually leave and then I have to go.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Okay. When I was listening to the bill regarding the custody and the guardianship of the animals, which I'm a big animal lover, I said well why -- this is an opportunity for the GALs that if they get slapped around for what they're doing they could just move right over to the -- the custody and the welfare of dogs, you know, because I'm sure they can figure that out.
Anyway I'm sorry.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Representative Gonzalez.
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you.
How long is the training, for how long?
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: It's 30 hours and it's six days.
REP. GONZALEZ: Thirty hours.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Thirty hours so you go -- it starts like at 12:00 and you leave by 5:00; it's six days.
REP. GONZALEZ: For six days.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Yes.
REP. GONZALEZ: And anybody -- anybody can take it.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Anyone.
REP. GONZALEZ: Anyone. Like -- like Senator Kissel was saying that -- that he was very instrumental with the GAL and I would like to say he's leaving but I would like to say before he leaves that things change.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Right, right.
REP. GONZALEZ: Things change. You know they started a process.
SENATOR KISSEL: (Inaudible).
REP. GONZALEZ: Maybe you -- maybe you started -- maybe you started the process, maybe he (inaudible) process --
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Right.
REP. GONZALEZ: -- but that doesn't mean, Senator Kissel, that it's still like that. So may -- thank you for what you did and I know that you -- you have, you know, good intentions and you want to help but like I said -- like I said before, you know, you can start something with, you know, with the good intention but then people get in and because the money people get corrupted and they will do whatever they want to do.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Um-hum.
REP. GONZALEZ: And -- and that -- that happens, you know that that happens and -- and in court, you know, when I was -- when I was growing up in Puerto Rico when -- when you mentioned a judge in my community when I was growing up, there was the biggest thing, you know, a lot of respect. You never talked to them, not even look, you know, at -- at a judge because he was a lot of respect.
And now I'm saying we have the good and we've got the bad that's always and not only in New Haven. You can go to every single court and you have the good ones and you have the bad ones. You have the ones that really care and you've got the ones that they really don't care because I don't want to say something else.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Right.
REP. GONZALEZ: Now that happens and that's why it's good that you guys came out, you know, and -- and hopefully, you know, we're going to be able to do -- do something about it. Now what really worries me is that all the complaints out there about -- about the parents, mothers and fathers, there was a -- they -- we can't complain to the judge. And then we can complain to the judge and then they also (inaudible) the agency, they're going to supervise the visit and they also charge a lot of money.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Yup.
REP. GONZALEZ: So when you -- and (inaudible) sometimes, you know, you come -- you wake up and say hey what's going on, between the agency and the -- and the GAL you're flat broke and then you can't fight for your kids. And -- and I know this is serious, I know this is serious and that's why I want to get involved, I really want to get involved because I don't -- I think that it's time to do something about it.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Yeah and I don't think the task force should include anyone from the judicial --
REP. GONZALEZ: Listen I --
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: -- okay because the very person, and I'm sorry but one person who's part of the big thing said to someone that I was with in my training business is slow, take the class, I'll send you some cases, okay? So it's happening.
REP. GONZALEZ: I'm going to take the classes but I (inaudible) the classes.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: You get $300 an hour.
REP. GONZALEZ: It will be interesting, it will be interesting but -- but -- right. So -- but I'm going to look into that because I know that when they were saying before, you know, the task force, I agree that I -- I don't think that we should have, I'm sorry, any judges running -- running the task force. I agree with you, thank you.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there others with questions?
REP. ALBIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Jennifer, so much for coming up to -- from East Haven today to testify. I -- I just want to echo Senator Kissel's comments. It's incredibly valuable for us to hear your perspective, your unique experiences. It -- it will be helpful as --as we consider these issues down the line and I -- I thank you for your advocacy and, you know, I -- I don't have a question but I just wanted to -- to make that comment and thank you.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Thank you very much.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there others with questions or comments?
If not, thank you very much for your input here today.
JENNIFER VERRANEAULT: Okay, thank you very much for staying so late.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Mike Krukiel.
MIKE KRUKIEL: Good evening, I'm Mike Krukiel from Cromwell, Connecticut and I'm here to support Bill 6685. How do you summarize in three minutes 40 years and four generations of parental alienation due to current law and the failures of the family court system in Connecticut?
I'm speaking on behalf of my grandparents, my father, myself, my two sons and my daughter. It began in 1973 when my parents divorced and were one of the first cases under Connecticut's new No-Fault Divorce law.
It began by bi-weekly visitation that I had with my father and that's when he became a visitor and soon he would become a stranger. My mother began to deny visits, denigrate my father and alienate me from him.
I was taught to distance myself from my father and to hate him. By the age of twelve I would never see my father again – ever! My father would eventually commit suicide by putting a shotgun to his head and pulling the trigger.
I never saw my grandmother again and I did not see my grandfather until 1996. I grew up lost, alone and without direction. I failed at school. I made extremely poor decisions that would affect me the rest of my life including who I would choose to marry.
It is impossible to describe to you what the absence of a father did to me due to family law in the 1970's. It is not that much different today. I'm a child of parental alienation.
As an adult I had two marriages, two divorces, two custody battles in the State of Connecticut, AMC, two GALs, countless medical professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists, attorneys and so on and two sons and a daughter and they no longer have a father because of current law.
The first case resulted in a 15 year custodial battle for my two sons just to be an equal parent in the lives -- an equal parent in their lives with equal rights and equal responsibilities. I was married in 1990, had two son -- a son born in 1993 and another in 1994. I was ser-- sever -- served divorce papers in January of 1995 and ordered out of the house.
I was denied my sons from the beginning. Their mother was relentless in countless attempts to take my sons away and alienate me. Three Family Relations Custodial Evaluations in the 1990's alone. Attempts to take my sons to England, Virginia and California. I was that father deemed no longer capable of caring for my six-month old and denied overnights because I was no longer in the house.
Dr. James Black -- after exhausting the family relations system in Middletown, Dr. James Black was named evaluator in 2000 and his first evaluation was complete in 2002. At the regional level there was a trial in 2003. I was forced to agree to less than 50/50 another -- essentially it was a 70/30 split and apparently eight years of abuse and -- towards my two sons was not enough for -- to even be an equal parent in their lives.
Alienation continued and it became so severe that for 17 months, from April of 2005 until October of 2006, I am denied my sons completely. At a second trial at the regional level, which began in October of 2006 and lasted for a full week, Judge Bozzuto enforces the existing orders of 2003.
My ex was found to be delusional, prone to distort reality and testifies on the stand at regional that she secretly wished I was dead. Judge Bozzuto, in January of 2007, awards me sole legal custody and physical residency of my two sons based on a severe state of alienation. It took 12 years and their complete destruction for that to happen.
I was ordered to move from Cromwell to Wethersfield as part of an award -- of -- of that award and forced to let go of my home and file for bankruptcy for the second time in ten years.
Judge Bozzuto made one grave mistake. She got it though, she got what the alienation was about and she made the decision at the time that she should have made. But she made one grave mistake and this is critical. She did not put in place any orders to contain my ex. Once the new orders were put in place, everyone walked away and my ex continued her campaign to alienate and influence my sons for the next three years that they lived with me.
There were no sanctions put in place, no consequences for her to stop and no one was watching.
In 2006, GAL Emily Moskowitz was assigned to the case. At the conclusion of the trial and the new orders were put in place, she provided her phone number to my sons for them to call her at anytime they had a complaint against me, which they did constantly at their mothers urging for the next three years.
In April of 2010 GAL Moskowitz allowed their mother to bring my sons to her for a meeting without my knowledge despite me having sole legal custody at the time. Essentially this was the woman who says she wished I was dead and had alienated them for so long and had custody stripped of her and this should never ever have happened. I was not made aware of this meeting until I was served new motions by the -- by a marshal informing me that my sons had met with the GAL behind my back.
This is what they had been exposed to for so long and could now -- no longer -- they relented to what their mother's pressure was.
Returning to court, GAL Moskowitz aligns herself with my ex, shuts me out and my sons return back to their mother. After 15 years, I could no longer fight anymore and I cannot fight a biased GAL all alone. I had no more money.
This was October 2010. I have not seen my oldest son since. His life has been destroyed. It was two years before I saw my younger son and I've only seen him a few times since. His life has also been destroyed.
I have a second case, a second marriage, second divorce. Married in 1996 and a daughter that was born in 1997. What made this case unique is that we had lived separately since 2004 all the way up until 2010 without court orders. We had a 50/50 Parenting Plan that we agreed upon.
And our daughter, despite a lot of difficulties, had a -- was an emotionally healthy, happy, well adjusted child that had a great relationship with both of her parents until 2010 began.
Her mother began an affair and told my then 13 year old daughter to keep her affair a secret from me. Her mother then ran to attorneys, filed motions and attack, attack, attack!
She put my daughter in the middle, lied to her, alienated her from me and forced her to choose between her parents by filing a motion for a GAL because she knows, like was previously stated, that the -- the courts are on her side as mother and because the system enables and encourages her to do so.
GAL Rhonda Morra was named GAL for my daughter and from the beginning she chose sides before meeting my daughter before -- or for meeting her mother and she shut me out. She refused to even hear the history of this case from the beginning and she aligned herself with her mother.
GAL Morra has no children. She cannot relate, is incredibly biased and incompetent and to this day knows nothing of the history of this case and refuses to hear it. She made the statement that I know enough when I tried to speak up and tell her the history. She still has not heard my side.
GAL Morra made assurance statement to her mother, my ex, to not to worry after I left the room at a Family Relations Mediation Session because I did not agree to a 70/30 agreement. I only know that this was said because I paused outside the door when I left.
GAL Morra should never have inserted herself in a family relations mediation session and tried to strong arm me into -- into agreeing to a 70/30 split after six years of a 50/50 parenting plan. We never had a chance to mediate.
Your system is designed to pit one parent against the other. It uses the child as a pawn and I was that pawn when I was a child. All of my children have been put in the middle of this system and destroyed.
It's whoever gets possession of the child is the one who gets residency and gets child support and all the decision-making because joint legal custody does not mean a thing. It's possession.
You have -- you -- for -- there has to be consequences. I know my time is up and you guys -- all right.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there questions for Mr. Krukiel?
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you for coming today. How old are your kids?
MIKE KRUKIEL: My oldest son now will be 20 next month and my younger son is 18 and my daughter is 15.
REP. GONZALEZ: So you're still with you daughter three more years.
MIKE KRUKIEL: I have not seen my daughter for the last nine months now. I have not seen my oldest son in two and one half years for the second time and I have a very strained relationship with my younger son after not seeing him for two years.
REP. GONZALEZ: You know I would like to say that -- and I'm not -- I don't know if I'm doing the right thing or not but I'm going to say it anyway because honestly this really bothers me. It is a group of -- of parents, you have females and males, they're -- they really organize themselves because of this problem.
And -- and because sometimes the court orders not to say anything, that's what a gag order, sometimes they don't -- they don't have nowhere to go. But I will say, and I will say it here and I don't care, whatever, but I will say get in touch with that group because that group already went to the federal court and they are doing something against all -- all of this as who's going on.
MIKE KRUKIEL: I've been speaking out about this since the 1990s when I was in the courts passing out info on parental alienation at that time.
REP. GONZALEZ: Well go to -- go to the website. Go to -- I think there is a group, I heard that it's a group, that they -- they are working on this because they know that they couldn't go back to court, the judges they were not listening and what I heard is that they got -- they already went to the federal court. So I think it -- it will be interesting for you to find out, you know, and -- and check and maybe we can get together with them and -- and help them because I think that they need all the help that, you know, they can get.
MIKE KRUKIEL: Yes that's part of why I'm here today. You know my fight for my son -- sons is over, there's nothing more that I can do and I hope someday they understand and figure it out.
I'm at a crossroads at what I should do about my daughter because of her and where she is and it's very complicated. But I will say this if you do not change this shared parenting law, then I pray to God that my children do not have children because I would never ever want to see them end up in one of your family courts and face the same thing over again. Please do not let this happen to a fifth generation of Krukiels.
REP. GONZALEZ: Do you know what is good about this is that everybody was quiet because they were scared and -- and what is good about this is is that people are waking up and saying it's -- it's a light, you know, at the end of the tunnel and they are looking for that light and I think that you can be part of that group.
MIKE KRUKIEL: Thanks, thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there others with questions?
Seeing none, thank you, Mr. Krukiel.
MIKE KRUKIEL: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Marisa Halm.
MARISA HALM: Good evening, Senator Coleman, Representative Fox and members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Marisa Halm. I'm an attorney with the Center for Children's Advocacy and I'm here today to support Raised Bill 6682, AN ACT CONCERNING COLLABORATION BETWEEN BOARDS OF EDUCATION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL.
Our organization has been instrumental in promoting this legislation for the past couple of years so if there's any questions I can answer I'm happy to do that. I know that you've heard a lot of testimony in support of this bill from my colleagues and our other supporters so I'm going to try not to repeat a lot of information.
Just a little background on our organization. We're a nonprofit legal services organization. We're the only organization that serves -- is dedicated to serving children in the State of Connecticut.
I work on our team TeamChild Juvenile Justice Project and we run two Disproportionate Minority Project -- Reduction Projects, they're called DMC projects, in Hartford and Bridgeport where we work with local stakeholders to reduce the over-representation of youth of color in our juvenile justice system.
Through this work we witness first-hand the negative effects of having police in schools. Having police in schools leads to the regular occurrence of school-based arrests for some of our most vulnerable youths and that would be youths with disabilities and -- and youth of color.
As I think you know the -- the bill is going to achieve two main things. It's going to ensure the adoption of formal written policies or Memorandums of Agreement, MOAs as -- as you've heard about, whenever -- and this is only in the school districts where they already have police stationed in the schools. And it's also going to ensure that communities and their stakeholders have data on school-based arrests.
Now how do we know that this is going to work? I would posit that this is going to work because model MOAs have already been successfully signed and implemented in 13 other Connecticut communities.
There's been a lot -- I've heard questions throughout the day about which communities have MOAs so I just wanted to kind of run through the list of the communities that do so that you're aware. Hartford and Bridgeport obviously; Manchester, you heard Chief Montminy testify today about the work that they -- the great work that they've done in Manchester; the City of Stamford as Representative Fox knows; Windham; Ansonia; Hamden; New Haven; Norwalk; Norwich; Regional School District #10; Vernon public schools and also the Town of Windsor.
So we have successful MOAs in place already in those towns. And we know in Hartford this -- the process of -- of signing the MOA has helped us reduce school-based arrests by 60 percent between this year -- this school year and last year -- last school year.
Additionally in Hartford last school year, school-based arrests made up 40 percent of all juvenile arrests in the city. This year they make up only 5 percent so we're very proud of that accomplishment.
In Bridgeport the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement has -- has reduced arrests by nearly 40 percent.
So when the decision is made to station a police officer in a school, I can't stress enough the importance of ensuring collaboration between school administrators and law enforcement personnel. This collaboration is essential to keeping our children safe and to keeping our schools a place where learning and -- and growth is what remains as the focus.
Thank you for your time.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there questions for Ms. Halm?
REP. REBIMBAS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you for your testimony. Do you know what school districts have police officers that don't have MOAs that are having any problems?
MARISA HALM: That's -- that's a really good question. I know that -- I know that some of the -- well you heard -- you heard Sandy Staub testify earlier today about the total number -- they actually have done some research on the towns that have police in them compared to those that don't have the MOAs.
I would say that I think some -- some of the towns in the Hartford area that are having struggles with school-based arrests include, you know, East Hartford, West Hartford.
REP. REBIMBAS: Did you say they are signing something or does that not include the east and west?
MARISA HALM: West Hartford I do not believe has an MOA. East Hartford had an MOA. I do not know if it is still in effect.
REP. REBIMBAS: Okay and have you personally, or your organization, had any contact with the State Department of Education?
MARISA HALM: We have, in fact we have a meeting set with them. The Commissioner is aware of the legislation and he has -- their concerns about the legislation are minor. Their concerns are actually not even related to data collection. Their concerns are -- were related to more of having a better understanding of what the graduated response model is and we do have a meeting set up with them so that they can give you some feedback before the JF deadline.
REP. REBIMBAS: Okay, thank you for your testimony.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there other members with questions?
Seeing none, thank you for your testimony.
MARISA HALM: Okay, thank you very much.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Dr. Richard Kisiel.
RAPHAEL L. PODOLSKY: Thank you, Senator Coleman, Representative Fox, members of the Committee. My name is Raphael Podolsky. I'm with the Legal Assistance Resource Center. It's part of the legal aid programs. I'm going to try and be very brief here.
In summary we are in support of House Bill 6682 which deals with police -- school and police cooperation. We oppose Senate Bill 178 concerning the termination of parental -- child support after the termination of parental rights. We oppose Senate Bill 1155 that concerns alimony. We oppose House Bill 6685 on shared custody and in regard to House Bill No. 6688 we ask that you remove section 6 from the bill which deals with motions for contempt and motions to modify.
I want to speak to you in the time I have briefly on three of those five bills and I'm clearly happy to answer any questions I can about all five of them.
Let me start with section 6 of House Bill No. 6688. We're fine with the bill in general but that section would repeal 46b-8 of the General Statutes which is a section that says when you have a motion for contempt and a motion for modification you should hear them together.
We think that's important to keep because for a number of reasons it's important that they be heard together. We represent people who often have orders that are out-of-date, they don't have access to lawyers, they don't file motions for modification, they get brought in for contempt and you want them to be able, before they get sent off to jail, to be able to put out their case as to why they really are unable to afford payments.
You cannot change an arrearage because you can't modify retroactively but you can move forward in the proper way. And in fact the same evidence is involved so it's really a matter of judicial efficiency because the evidence that you have used to show that you are not in contempt of court, which is inability to pay, is the same evidence you would use to get a modification of the underlying order.
So we just think that you should not -- if you would just take section 8 -- section 6 out of that bill we would appreciate it.
The second bill I mentioned is Senate Bill No. 178. That is the bill that says that in certain circumstances, even though the par -- a person's parental rights have been terminated, he's still liable for child support.
First of all that's completely inconsistent with the concept of termination of parental rights because you're no longer the parent of the child. It also can lead to a situation where the person whose rights have been terminated is -- kind of harasses the family because he's paying for a child that is not -- that he no longer -- he has any legal relationship to. And it will also have the -- the collateral effect of discouraging people from making viol -- voluntary agreements if they're going to end up with child support orders after termination.
The proper way to deal with the kind of situation that I know several years ago led to this prop -- proposal is -- is a support order but with no visitation rights and that accomplishes the goal if -- if there's need based on the situation to prevent that person from -- from being with the child. At the same time it preserves the liability for support.
Finally in regard to House Bill No. 6685 which is the shared custody bill, I guess I need to say a couple of things in introduction on that. I very much support and I think we support the notion that -- that both parents should have well-established and -- and continuing relationships with the child.
A lot of the testimony that I heard when I was in the room was actually not about this bill but about, for example, GALs that don't behave properly, you know, do their job right, I think the current statute gets it. That's to say there's a presumption when the parents agree on joint custody. There should be joint custody. Judges should not interfere with that.
There's a parenting plan in all cases that addresses the whole range of parenting issues but there are many circumstances where it's not likely to work. It's a problem if the parents can't work with each other and in default cases it really is not workable.
Thank -- thank you very much.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there questions for Attorney Podolsky?
REP. GONZALEZ: Yeah I -- I got a comment. I -- I agree with you that on the Bill 178 I believe that if they terminated my parental rights then, you know, why I'm going to be supporting, I don't have no right to see my kids.
But -- but other than that I'm --I'm concerned about that because we have in our community a lot of parents that the parental rights they were terminated and they way -- they -- the parent was saying they terminated my -- my rights because a neighbor complained about me and -- and they -- they also -- there's a lot of people out there saying, you know, with -- with no -- no evidence, enough evidence, they terminated my rights.
And I think that -- that -- that would -- this will create a -- a problem for those parents that really want to be close to the kids and -- and they terminate the parental rights and they have to -- because I would -- I would say when you said that in -- in the Latino community that people are saying, you know, the Latino community and the African-American community, when people say they don't want to be -- or she don't want to be a mother, she don't want to be a father.
You know there's a remark out there because they label people and I don't think -- I agree I don't think that Bill 178, I don't think that will do any good.
RAPHAEL L. PODOLSKY: I -- I agree with your saying about 178 but I think a lot of what you're saying is not actually about 178, 178 is designed for a particular unusual situation that involves termination of parental rights for child abuse.
REP. GONZALEZ: Well 178 says continuation of child support obligation --
RAPHAEL L. PODOLSKY: Right.
REP. GONZALEZ: -- as to the termination of parent rights due to abuse or neglect.
RAPHAEL L. PODOLSKY: Right, right. But the -- the situation that you're talking about more commonly is what does it take to -- to com -- to go to court for -- for -- for particularly for the DCF to go to court and get a parent's rights terminated.
And obviously judges can make mistakes and, in fact in this area, they may well do that but there are pretty strong standards in our statutes, if you're just looking at the statutes, to try and protect parents from inappropriate termination of parental rights.
So that there are -- the standard of proof is high. You're entitled to have a lawyer to represent you. Things are done in a way that at least structurally gives you a chance. I think the problem is, and I've seen this in the cases that are reported in the Law Journal that go up on appeal, is that the way in which -- which courts have been interpreting the requirements have I think increasingly been unwilling to accept rehabilitation of the parent as being sufficient grounds for -- for avoiding the termination of parental rights.
So I -- I think that there's -- I think there's something to what you're saying --
REP. GONZALEZ: Yeah.
RAPHAEL L. PODOLSKY: -- but I don't know that it's so much a statutory problem as an implementation problem.
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank you. Thank you for that information.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Representative Rebimbas.
REP. REBIMBAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you for your testimony. I know you did a wonderful job addressing the three and I know that there was some other ones that you mentioned that you're in support of or against. If you could just, as quickly as you did on the other three, if you could just give me your points regarding the others.
RAPHAEL L. PODOLSKY: Well the -- the bill that we support is 6682 which is the one about promoting the cooperation of school and police to try and make sure that police are used appropriately in the school context. I think you've heard a lot of testimony on that and we're supportive of all of that testimony.
The other one that I did not go into because there's also been a lot of testimony -- excuse me -- is Senate Bill No. 1155 which was the one on alimony and the -- 6688 I think does a much better job of addressing alimony issues than does 1155. Ali -- alimony cannot be handled in the way that child support is handled.
Child support we have guidelines and the reason we can have guidelines is child support is pretty much not no-fault. That's to say the party at issue is really the child, it's not the parents. And so it matters much less as to what the factors are other than financial as to how you're going to allocate what should -- should be given to the child.
And there's no question about term because as -- that the child turns 18 and we know right up front what the term is going to be. So you can look at the parents' income and you can set a formula and you can say this is our base and if -- you can deviate from it for a good cause but we're going to set it up as a presumption.
When you're dealing with alimony, there are all these different pieces that -- that make the cases much more individualized and so trying to set a -- a sort of a default rule for how we're going to do alimony is just -- I don't think it's -- I don't think it's doable on that kind of a basis and -- and there is a strong tendency once -- if you set a presumptive rule, or even if you don't call it a presumptive rule but say it's a -- sort of it's a guide, that the courts will default themselves to whatever it is.
So if you're talking about percentages of income or if you're talking about how long alimony is based on how many years the relationship has been, but you're not considering who's disabled and who's not disabled, who has -- who gave up their life possibility of having a higher income job for someone else, if you don't factor those things in, who was abusive and who wasn't, you don't -- everything becomes a deviation and -- and that doesn't do any good to have presumptions when everything is a deviation.
So -- and that's the reason that I think 1155 just doesn't work and the parts of 1155 that are really non-controversial are already in I think 6688. All these numbers sound the same to me. So -- so I think that that's the statute would work -- you would work with and I then as I said if you -- I'd ask you to take a look at section 6 and perhaps take it out of 6688.
REP. REBIMBAS: Okay, thank you.
RAPHAEL L. PODOLSKY: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: I guess that's it for questions. Thank you for your testimony.
RAPHAEL L. PODOLSKY: Thank you very much.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thomas Weissmuller.
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: I've been nursing the last 10 percent of my notes battery so I will hope they will not die out on me here.
My name is Thomas Weissmuller. I'm a retired trial judge and current chairman of the National Parents Organization, Connecticut chapter. Today I'm appearing on behalf of the National Parents Organization and in my personal capacity as one who has endured the Connecticut family court system.
I'll speak on behalf of Raised Bill Numbers 1155, 6688 and 6685. These bills will bring much needed reform to the family law system by removing inappropriate references to gender where gender is irrelevant to an inquiry by defining a methodology for the establishment of alimony where no methodology presently exists.
And by redefining the role of one parent from that of visitor, under the current paradigm, to that of a true parent with a meaningful obligation to provide emotional support, decision-making and physical care for the substantial period of time under -- under every parenting plan.
I understand that the language is only to be applied when it is agreed and that obviously is something we would hope would be removed if the bill comes out of Judiciary so it wouldn't just go for agreements but that that be the presumption in all matters unless proven otherwise.
Connecticut continues to ferret out gender biases within its statutory scheme by redefining benefits for wives as benefits for spouses and reclassifying obligations for husbands as obligations for spouses. We have confidence that you are acknowledging the impropriety of referencing gender when describing parental and spousal obligations.
We are certain that you do not intend the laws to be defined to support an 87 percent custodial loss rate for fathers.
As with husband and wife, the word alimony is a term of art with roots in church law. We hope you will continue progressive reform by defining alimony as spousal maintenance. Today the Legislature acknowledges that married people, male or female, gay or not, enjoy equal rights as citizens. Published laws do not yet demonstrate this truth so further amendments are likely necessary.
Spousal maintenance is an equitable remedy utilized to overcome financial imbalances that have occurred during the marriage. It is rehabilitative in nature, it is not punitive nor is it permanent. Connecticut should adopt a model law on spousal maintenance and eviscerate all references to alimony and the historic bias it conjures if possible. We understand that's not yet the paradigm but it's moving in that direction.
For my part I do not pay alimony. I enjoyed shared parenting to the extent permitted by my children's school year residence in Alaska. I have endured parental alienation. Alaska law has allowed me to address parental alienation on several occasions without fully retrying my Connecticut case.
There is no comparable provision under Connecticut law to address parental alienation. I implore you on behalf of myself and on behalf of our organization to craft one. Please ensure that judges are guided to favor equal or near equal parenting time. Remove the children from the fight.
While the guardian ad litem on my case performed adequately, she might have been trained to testify more clearly. Connecticut lacks standard protections to ensure appointment of qualified guardian ad litems. There are no rules to govern billing practices, limit investigations or prevent GALs from essentially riding herd on a case. There are some very excellent guardian ad litems. Unfortunately as you've heard today there are some that appear to abuse their opportunity to serve as guardian ad litem.
And states have crafted regulations and rules to prevent this from happening. These model codes are available. I worked for years in the Seattle arena. We -- I served on over 100 cases as a guardian ad litem. I could not work outside of my order and expect to be paid for it.
I represented the best interests of an incapacitated person or -- alleged incapacitated or minor child. I couldn't engage in advocacy beyond my call in my order and expect to be paid for it and I wouldn't. Similar rules could be implemented here. Statutory guidance is essential to that end.
During the course of my trial on custody, a large portion of testimony of the guardian ad litem was -- was stricken from the record because when she testified she used the word felt instead of the word deduced when describing her conclusions.
The judge offered no opportunity for rehabilitation. The judge's temperament varied wildly from day to day as did her evidentiary rulings. She refused, for example, to take judicial notice of a calendar yet she took judicial notice of a fact that every Alaskan citizen receives money from the state rather than pays taxes.
Please consider working with the Judiciary to ensure that our judges are adequately trained at the National Judicial College or in a comparable forum. Not every appointed judge is a former trial attorney.
We should seek excellence in judicial service. Consider protections relative to guardian ad litem service and improve GAL training. As chairman of the National Parents Organization in Connecticut I have learned that my experience is not unusual. I feel it calls on a regular basis as more parents, men and women, approach me with the challenges they face in your family court system.
You have heard powerful testimony today. Please hear these cries for help. If you are a parent, think of your own children and improve the system before you must rely on it.
I'll limit my comments to those, there are more but I understand that this particular bill is probably -- the alimony bill is the strong one and there's a good chance that there might be a commission or someone to investigate and the propriety of the shared parenting bill and possibly adding to it.
If that commission or something like that comes into fruition, I would hope you would contact our organization so that we might try and provide further information for you and support for that initiative and possibly personnel if you're looking for people to put on that kind of an investigative body.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you. In your service as a -- a GAL, can you -- have you ever sought the payment of a retainer from the parents of minor a child?
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: No, sir.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Okay. Can you think of any circumstances that might justify the payment of a retainer to a GAL?
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: In my experience that wouldn't be appropriate. In Connecticut I understand that it's done.
SENATOR COLEMAN: It is done. Have you -- I guess -- I don't know if you -- you've indicated you've done research on it but you -- you just commented it is done in Connecticut. Under what circumstances might it be done in Connecticut?
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: My under -- my recollection is that the guardian ad litem who worked on my case when I was a party to a custody battle here in Connecticut, I say battle, custody case, I believe she asked for money up front from each of us $1,500 to get started.
She had a very reasonable bill. I think she did a fine job. I have no issues with the guardian ad litem that worked on my case.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Okay.
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: When it comes to representations that I hear from our members, we have a large group and a growing group, the guardian ad litem concern surprised me. I regularly correspond with the people who write me on these issues and what I do is I essentially parrot the protections that the courts in the Seattle area imposed so that guardian ad litems were confined in their orders.
And basically the judges were always counseled to look at the order and there had to be a hearing. For example, I would present, as a guardian ad litem in Washington Superior Court, 15 days prior to the final hearing, I would present my bill including an affidavit of fees that broke down my hourly rate and the charge per hour to the tenth of the hour on anything I did.
I was confined to 10 hours of work. If I needed more time, I sought that time and I would advise all the parties that I would be seeking that time. Rarely would I need more time to do my job. I was supposed to investigate and report. I wasn't supposed to go to every deposition. I wasn't supposed to do all of these other things.
If it came to trial, I would expect to be sequestered as a witness although I could request additional authority from the court so that I could participate as an attorney. I was a trial attorney as well. These things aren't unusual they are just not done here.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Did you ever sit as a guardian ad litem during the course of a trial?
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: Yes I -- I have. I've participated in trials as a guardian ad litem and as an attorney representing one.
SENATOR COLEMAN: What would be the role in the capacity of a guardian ad litem?
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: In the trial I -- in -- in several trials I requested the ability to ask questions if I felt that it would be necessary and the judge granted with regard to certain issues that were being explored in the trial that I could ask questions relative to those prior to the parties' attorneys had opportunities to follow up. Most times I would not ask for that because there really would be no reason.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Did you seek or receive permission to interpose objections during the course of the trial?
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: I had the ability to do that in some occasions if, as in the -- the circumstance I just described, I was sitting at the Bar as opposed to being sequestered or outside of the -- the courtroom.
Many of the cases that I worked on involved things like minor settlements for children where I represented the interests of the child and there may be a challenge as to how money might be spent on behalf of the child by a step-parent, things of that nature, not necessarily in custody matters although I have represented in child custody and dependency matters as well. Still the same would apply.
There would be very few reasons for me to cross-examine. I would essentially be a witness. Everyone would have been provided with my report long in advance of the trial. If they wish to depose me they could have, although I cannot recall a specific occasion where I was ever deposed as a guardian ad litem.
Usually just the informal representations plus my report and of course you're -- you're an officer of the court so you're not going to be committing perjury.
And -- and also one of the protections that I found to be essential in the Washington system is that five days, within five days of an appointment, appointment was done on a rotating basis. Guardian ad litems had to attend special qualifying classes every other year.
There were lots of classes for guardian ad litems in the form of continuing legal education and, if you wanted to be a family court guardian ad litem, you needed to have five years of family practice in addition to the other training.
If you were appointed, every party had five days, before you started anything, to have you removed for various reasons. You either charged too much. There could be a conflict of interest.
You could approach the guardian ad litem informally and if someone did not like something that they saw in a prior case they could simply state it then the guardian ad litem is going to come off, similar to a recusal for a -- for a judge. There's a first recusal in Superior Court in Washington. You don't have that opportunity here as I understand. You may get stuck with whatever judge you draw and if you understand the biases of the judge well you're going to endure them.
Those protections can be classified in statute and the judiciary can be directed to implement them through rule and I understand it's a different paradigm here. They have a practice book of sorts that tends to mirror the rules you propose but I think in the end you probably will find that this will improve everyone's opportunity to have a fair and unbiased guardian ad litem and really challenge the fees.
I cannot conceive of a guardian ad litem that would -- that would ever bill more than $10,000 on a case. I cannot conceive of that. What are they doing? If their investigation is over, what are they doing? Are they attending depositions? Do they believe that they're acting in the some capacity as an attorney and, if so, why are they not held to the standard of the attorney?
An attorney cannot act on behalf of an individual party without a contract to do so that specifically defines the nature of the fee, how they will bill and so on. That -- that contract doesn't exist so there's no mechanism to enforce things that they bill willy-nilly. They have to bill in accordance with an order.
If they work outside of their charge, there should be no judicial mechanism that could enforce that bill. Why would you ever pay? If you were the judge and you looked at it, I can't -- and I have -- I was a judge for 15 years. I had guardian ad litems who routinely worked in front of me for 15 years.
There would occasionally be an exception to a bill but the standard that we applied is -- is the guardian ad litem working in accordance with his charge throughout the case. I have never seen in 15 years a bill for more than $10,000 from a guardian ad litem.
SENATOR COLEMAN: How did the rotating assignment of guardian ad litems work? Was there just a pool of guardian ad litems and the presiding judge just assigned as a -- when it came to the next name?
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: Yes and the way it would work ultimately -- I remember I -- I pulled my name off the guardian ad litem registry in several counties because you really had to be ready to go. You knew you didn't have to start necessarily for a week unless someone came in with also an ex parte request for an immediate emergency investigation which could -- while you might ultimately come off the case, I was never asked to leave a case.
If -- if they came in with some request like that, you may have to literally start your investigation right away. The idea is that you would take a call -- the registry worked so that they would literally pull the next name. They'd pull three, they'd ask the clerk to step out and this clerk would make a call and everyone on the registry knew that they had to have a phone number that could allow for an immediate return call.
So they had my cell phone number and if I could take the case I would take the case. I might ask the parties if I felt that there was a potential for a conflict in a smaller county but each county maintained the registry.
And the other thing that was important is that the counties would maintain registries as well for -- you could in Snohomish County, for example, agree to work on a pro bono registry for the indigent. I don't understand why if you have a guardian ad litem program you do not have a pro bono guardian ad litem program. It -- it doesn't hurt us to take a case for free or to take a case at a minimum pay where Snohomish County paid $300.
Now all that's going to do is basically cover your time but you're going to put 10, 12 hours at the most into that case and you're going to get $300 or another county might say $300 and 45 an hour for so many hours that can approved above the 300. That's in cases involving indigent people.
I don't understand why, if we have a complex system in court, we don't have that system. It's -- it's easily remedied. Young attorneys are willing to work for $45 an hour and learn and earn their stripes as a guardian ad litem.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there others with questions?
If not, I appreciate your input here.
THOMAS WEISSMULLER: Thank you for your time.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Sara Frankel.
SARA FRANKEL: Good evening, Senator Coleman, Representative Fox and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Sara Frankel and I'm the public policy director for children, youth and young adults with the Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and I am here today on behalf of NAMI Connecticut to support H.B. 6682, AN ACT CONCERNING COLLABORATION BETWEEN BOARDS OF EDUCATION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL.
You've heard a lot today about this bill and I'd like to speak to it from the perspective of mental health and children with psychiatric disabilities. Many of the behaviors exhibited by children that lead to school-based arrests are often the result of unmet behavioral and mental health needs. It is widely recognized that 20 percent of all children have a diagnosis -- a diag -- diagnosable mental health condition.
Drop-out rates among students classified as emotionally disturbed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are alarmingly high, over 50 percent. Additionally 55 to 70 percent of youth in juvenile detention have a diagnosable behavioral health condition.
Rather than pushing children out of -- of school for problem behaviors, we must work towards creating a positive school climate for learning and social development so that every child has an opportunity for success.
In order to reduce the number of arrests in schools of children with problem behaviors, a memorandum of agreement should exist between the district and the police department that outlines roles and responsibilities and school and police personnel should be regularly oriented to its implementation.
We would also recommend that such MOAs reference school climate plans and would -- and also within those school climate plans there should be reference to school-wide positive behavior supports. These school-wide positive behavior supports are evidence-based practices that increase student learning and simultaneously address problem behaviors through positive reinforcement.
In my testimony I have -- I have an attachment from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health that explains more about this evidence-based practice.
For example the MOAs already implemented in Manchester and Hartford include a graduated response model and within that model provisions for evaluation and -- evaluation and assessment for unmet needs. This allows schools to identify and begin to offer much needed services, such as mental health services, rather than unnecessarily dia -- placing children in the juvenile justice system where we know these children don't belong.
So in conclusion I ask that you please support H.B. 6682 so that all children, including those with behavioral health problems and psych -- and psychiatric disabilities are best served by their schools and communities.
Thanks for your time.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank -- thank you.
Are there questions?
There are none. Thank you very much.
CHERYL MARTONE: I should start out by saying testifying on Bill 6685 and everybody knows what that is of shared parenting and I would like to really see it called equal parenting.
Thank you Chairs and the ones that are still here, Representative Rebimbas and Representative Gonzalez. I am Cheryl Martone of Westbrook, Connecticut. You know who I'm -- I am and for those who don't I grew up with an uncle who is a dean of psychology at Miami University. My mother was -- in my twenties -- when I was in my twenties was a private investigator. My niece is a biochemist, graduated magna cum laude from So -- South Central Commun -- South -- Southern Connecticut State University.
I actually serve the parents of Connecticut in this -- in this -- in Connecticut in this country and other countries and I am contacted here as a -- and I'm a parent lobbyist because I'm contacted because I have my name all over blogs everywhere, on Facebook. Serve as a judicial abuse advocate and I promo -- pro -- constitution right to be a parent and to raise our children as we see fit in the best interests of our children.
My child's life has been negatively impacted, altered, cut off from his normal wholesome activities he wanted to do and was used in -- and was used to in -- in deliberately -- deliberate detrimental ways.
The GAL, Sue Cousineau and numerous attorneys and biased judges, money-sucking AMCs, especially the GAL lied all the time knowingly what she said would extract our child from our lives at her own selfish speed. When I asked her why she said things in the court, she said that she could. I said wrong answer.
She kept insisting because I didn't know the laws and I didn't know how cruel they would be. She kept me from my son who will be successful today -- and my son could be successful today if it wasn't for her and the faulty system. She kept him to see what she could get monetarily out of the system and from my family when I had a good home for him to live in and was a fit parent.
He was drugged. Chemically forced annihilation gives a feeling of helplessness and hopefulness -- hopelessness just like the courts tried to do. I managed to get him out (inaudible) he was molested. The negligence in the CPS, DCF and family court system is a horrible nightmare.
It must be reconstructed. The way I extracted him out of the system 75 percent and he -- they're -- they're still like -- attack him in the school system, is to expose them in the media, blogs, everywhere. Tell the truth, that's what I say in the courts.
An evidentiary hearing, recent case law and amicus brief and solutions that would work. Please make this law -- please make this bill into a law and add 5436, parental alienation, to impose civil penalties, pay a fine for the other parent and DCF too, or GALs, that deliberately close a parental -- a child parental alienation separation from their parents to be away from a good, protective, fit, loving parent.
Who -- who suffers trauma? The child suffers the trauma. The parent suffers the trauma because of the unlawful separation. State that the judges must force the parental alienation parent to let the both parents see the children.
Just like they forced a GAL on our children and us. Equal custody, both parents in the children's lives, no questions asked, and whoever violates this shall be in -- like it says in the bill crim -- the criminal -- criminal investigation -- not be fined more than $2,000 and imprisoned.
I mean why is this going on in our country? Here -- here's my son, full pictures of my son with me, happy, happy and he's very -- his life is very unhappy. He's going to be 18 and his life is pretty much lost.
So I just wanted to read you a quick poem from -- written by victims of parental alienation and this is from Joanie Kloth's book of Broken Family Bonds: Poems and Stories From Victims of Parental Alienation, I Never Asked for It by Kathy Turetski.
I never ask for it and yet it happened to me. I felt I lost my child and yet he as alive. My child thought I was a bad parent and yet I exceeded the expectations of a mother role. I felt I lived my life for my children and yet I was beaten down as a bad parent. I was alienated from my child and yet I truly loved and wanted my child. I was determined to never give up. And yet it didn't seem to help. I continued anyways and yet after several attempts I felt I was in a losing situation and yet it didn't happen.
I did get my child back and yet I continued to pray and all those parents who are still trying and yet another day goes by without your child in your life and yet you are alienated from your child.
Continue to make another attempt and yet one day it will happen when it may be the last attempt you have to make.
Children should not be alienated from their parents and I feel this bill should be equal parenting. Both parents should be in the (inaudible) children's lives unless a criminal act is committed.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you, Ms. Martone.
Are there questions?
Seeing none, thank you for your testimony.
CHERYL MARTONE: Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Maureen Kahn.
MAUREEN KAHN: I don't have any idea what time it is so good evening. It's been a long day. I support House Bill No. 6685. I haven't seen my son since the week after Christmas. I -- they -- the courts took my son August 10, 2010. They unlawfully threw me into jail, ripped by shoulder, caused me damage.
While I was in this jail, I was, you know, given some medications and they kept giving me pills. Didn't know what they were giving me and they wrecked my liver. Right now I'm more concerned about my dad because he's kind of on -- he's passing on us but my son is in the hands of his abusive father.
We've already proven the case over and over again. My case is FA00 which means 2000. My son is now 14 years old. He was molested by his father for sure. We know this because he's been seen, he's been given a forensic evaluation that Judge Boland ordered himself and then he recused himself from the case when we were in court November of 2008.
I filed an appeal against him January 29, 2009. It was never heard. It was dismissed by the appeal -- Appellate Court which I did everything right. I did a -- I did file a brief. I did everything supposedly correctly and we were just heard in April of 2012 and the Supreme Court ruled that I was allowed to bring it to the Appellate Court -- back to the Appellate Court and sexual abuse was mentioned in there.
Because Judge Boland had ruled to give my son to his father, full custody to his father, even though he recused himself, I feel that there's too many things going on in the family courts. It's unheard of; it's absolutely unlawful and immoral. I just want my son back.
I had him, I was the primary parent. I did everything DCF told me to do. I kept quiet, didn't talk in front of him. He drew pictures, he did -- he didn't sexually act out with other kids and I don't know how else I could have approached it.
I had him going to counseling. I was ridiculed. I was treated like I was a piece of garbage. I'm a mom of a 32 and 30 year old in May. I've already raised two boys. I already know what the system is about. I've been involved in that court for -- for 17 years and I've asked for a change of venue so that I wouldn't be discriminated against because I have one leg. I've been called a one-legged wonder. It's -- it's unbelievable and I don't know how to make the nightmares stop.
When -- when you hear the thing about the dads it's not only the dads, I'm seeing it with the moms all over place and I think that they're trying to make such a -- an extreme change over -- it all depends on the mood of the judge and my GAL was hostile towards me in front of a psychologist, in front of a medical doctor, in front of the people at the Joshua Center and Natchaug Hospital.
I loved what you said. I mean just anything that you were talking about before with -- without -- the girls that are coming to you and -- and the moms and the dads. We're all having situations in court and it's bordering in illegal -- illegal kidnapping of our children.
They're not listening to us. They're not paying attention to the real things that are happening. They're disregarding psychologist -- thank you -- they're disregarding psychologist's reports. They're disregarding just about everything.
I mean my son, like I said, he acted out in school for God sakes. It wasn't on my time, it was on his father's time and he's talked about it. He wrote a letter to President Obama and he says I know what my father did to me and I want to be a lawyer for kids only.
He's there because -- my -- he -- he just -- I have the letters if you guys want a copy but I just didn't make any copies. I'm sorry. I just want my son back. It's two years and eight months and it's ridiculous.
They -- they actually took our dog and our cat to lure my son to his father's home to make him go to his father's home and my son -- my son was so strong. He refused for three and one half months and that's when he wrote that letter to President Obama. I get a letter back from President Obama, when I finally got it months later because my lawyer quit on me and said I'm not bringing up sexual abuse and I think he was absolutely shocked that we ended up winning the Supreme Court case because he didn't say much.
But he ended up giving me this letter and I -- I never knew it existed until months later so I sent it to President Obama and they sent back to me and said go back to all those agencies I've been to. I've been to DCF seven times the case was open. I've been to -- all these agencies have -- all these people were here, it's unbelievable, the Child Protection Agency, Carolyn Signorelli, John Callis, all these people that were in DCF Ombudsman's office and it's just unreal how it's -- it's corrupt.
At this point it's -- I have no faith in the system. So the system is broken. The GAL actually sneered at me and told me you're not going to get a forensic evaluation for your son. That was the first GAL. Swore because I had court orders from May 2002 to have a -- have a forensic evaluation, if somebody had done something then, my son would have been okay.
Now we had a -- a guy do it for -- forensic in May 2009. That -- it took seven years to get a -- an actual forensic evaluation by an expert in the field and the judge ignored it.
So we have situations that are potentially damaging to the child in the future. He has a recidivism rate in this report of up to 17 to 27 percent. I'm not saying that my son is going to be a bad boy but I'm just afraid for him because he's not getting the help he needs right now.
And I was getting that help for him and I was paying attention to him and I was paying attention to his needs. He's going down in school. I mean the -- the separation is sick, it's wrong and I can't afford to go to the -- I can't afford to pay the father's portion towards the psychologist that they -- the -- the G -- the AMC picked, hand-picked, and he was very nasty to me and now because I can't pay it they're putting me into collections.
So I don't get to see my son over money since the week after Christmas and my son is getting -- you know he's getting all kinds of stories so he has no idea what he's allowed to do. He always said in -- even in visitations -- in supervised visitations I'm not allowed, I don't know, I'm not supposed to.
I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I -- I don't see my lawyer. My AMC doesn't see me but she sends -- sends me bills for thousands, you know. I've been attacked for that also.
The judge said bring a toothbrush you might be going to jail because I live on disability and they took my disability away and gave it to the father. They wanted to actually put me down to zero, take my full social security permanent disability away from me and give it to the father and they wanted -- because they overpaid, you know, they paid me for a little while because they told me it was okay. I don't know what they're doing and this is government.
They want $3,100 back from me and I have no money. I have no way to survive. My car is dead. I can't get to court and then the AMC is also pushing off court as long as she can. The AMC keeps on -- what do you call it -- continuing my motions for a change of venue, a change of GAL, a -- a -- to dismiss the AMC because she was -- I already conteded her -- contacted her to be my attorney and that's an extreme conflict of interest.
But when they brought me back in -- in chains and I was -- after jail, they said I had to take her. I mean there's a lot of forcing when you go in front of these judges. There's no agreement. I can't call any one of those an agreement. I was forced to -- if I wanted to see my son, I had to sign the agreement.
So it -- it's -- it's just getting ridiculous. I don't know what to do. It's -- it's years in court. I'm tired, I'm just tired and this is why people walk away and people don't report to DCF because DCF turns on you. They don't help children at all.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Are there questions for Ms. Kahn?
REP. GONZALEZ: Yeah I've got a question.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Representative Gonzalez.
REP. GONZALEZ: How old is your son?
MAUREEN KAHN: He's now -- he just turned 14 and I had to beg to have him see my father in the hospital. My father is on a breathing tube. He's 73 years old and we beg -- had to beg to let him -- get his father to bring him over. That's the last I saw of my son.
Actually I -- I saw him only briefly in there because he -- he went in to see my dad and then left.
REP. GONZALEZ: And when you report that your son was sexually assaulted, who was the judge?
MAUREEN KAHN: Judge Boland and -- and Judge -- it -- it goes back a long time; he was two and one half and he was speaking about it. He drew pictures of -- over it. He had counselors. He had DCF. Nobody would listen.
REP. GONZALEZ: You said Judge Bowman?
MAUREEN KAHN: Boland, B-o-l-a-n-d. I'm fed up. I don't know what else to do. So I'm going to be -- I'm going to be sanctioned. I'm going to get in trouble for this because I'm saying names.
REP. GONZALEZ: I know.
MAUREEN KAHN: But now, if I go back to the other court, Judge Boland got transferred out, now we have Shluger who was supposed to be on the case from the be -- when -- from the -- 1/29/09 Judge Shluger took over because Judge Boland recused himself, it's on the record, but when I filed a judicial review against Judge Boland for doing this, for taking the case back and giving my son to his father and sanctioning me and -- and putting me in jail for a month, I mean I was in the medical unit. It was -- it was pretty bad. I was isolated, I was in isolation.
But since then I was -- I mean Judge Shluger should have had this case all the way through. I don't know how he is going to be un -- they pushed me off again March 12 because my father was sick and I couldn't -- I couldn't go in. They pulled the tube out of his throat and he breathed on his own and looked at me so I couldn't take my mom away from that.
REP. GONZALEZ: And where do you have to go to court, where?
MAUREEN KAHN: In Norwich.
REP. GONZALEZ: Norwich.
MAUREEN KAHN: In Norwich, yeah. I'm on the other side of the state. But I mean I've tried everything. I've been -- I've been actually teased and -- and called the one legged wonder by law -- lawyers. They dropped the criminal case. They tried to say custodial interference. I wasn't interfering. I was forced out of my home and I -- I moved, yes I had to move. There's no place in Connecticut that I could afford.
So they've -- they've kind of attacked the heck out of me, you know? I lost my home. I lost everything. I -- I lost my home so then I lost my son. It's just sick. And I raised him, he was in my home -- I -- more -- he -- his -- he went to his father 20 hours a week and then he went 47 hours a week. They kept pushing even though they knew about the sexual abuse they pushed for overnights, they pushed for a lot of things.
Now at this point I don't know if my son is going to be okay because with his P -- he has PTSD, (inaudible) and he has a sense of -- and -- and capresis. It was all documented in the record. He had severe anxiety and he's got access codes all over the place. What are they doing? They send him to a psychologist that calls me crazy and she is telling him this and he says oh you shouldn't be talking about my father and you shouldn't be doing these things.
You can tell parental alienation is definite because he's like -- he -- he's such a different kid. It's -- it's been two years and eight months and he's angry and he doesn't about -- why I'm not seeing him so he's angry with me. I'm being blamed for it, you know.
And anyway that's all I have to say.
REP. GONZALEZ: Thank -- thank you for coming. Thank you.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Joey Whatley.
A VOICE: He's not here.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Margaret Mansfield.
MARGARET MANSFIELD: (Inaudible). Hi my name is Margaret Mansfield, known as Peg Mansfield. I'm a mother of five children ages 10 through 30. And because of the spacing of the age over the past 30 years I've always had at least one or more children under the age of 10 which makes me a career mommy and it's who I am. It's been that way for my whole life.
I am fresh out of the courtroom, talk about a tough room. Within the last 24 hours the biggest gasps that came out of all your faces today happened to me yesterday in New Haven Court.
After three and one half years of dealing with incompetent GALs and prejudice, I had that beating in -- in mediation yesterday so I would just like to point out when I got here Senator Len Fasano had -- had been talking about everything that applied to me yesterday.
The -- I had a GAL that was appointed to my case back in the beginning and she -- she stopped answering my phone calls half way through the -- the whole thing after I begged her to intervene many times on my -- my husband's neglect of mental health.
She kept saying well if you don't like it just get another GAL. And so she said just file a motion, file a motion and all along the joke was I had no money to file a motion but finally I found a certified GAL who was willing to do pro bono work and yesterday I finally filed a motion and it got kicked out because the -- the boys club there vehemently objected to just some woman being appointed.
She actually told me she would be thrilled to step aside. Anyway they tell me to let -- let it -- let it all go. My statement that I planned to talk about today about the system is failing me it's more about how I hope that when you pass this bill with the presumption of share custody, you'll -- you'll definitely use the terminology with -- with or without an agreement because one parent who is hostile against another and acts punitively against them can sabotage joint custody just by refusing to communicate and that's what happened to me in that horrible room yesterday.
Because of a lack of presumption of shared parenting I was ejected from my home in 2010. I'm about to take a risk right now for -- to reveal information that's probably going to affect my reputation publically but it's important that I do because even though I'm -- I'm done in -- in the court and I lost, I hope to help others in the future.
The -- the system is not only prejudice, and no disrespect, Senator Coleman, about swaying toward in favor of the woman, but in my experience, in my case yesterday and all through these last three and one half years it has been slanted in the ca -- in the favor of whichever party does not have any problems on paper or any mental health ill diagnosis on paper.
They can have one but if they didn't go for help and it doesn't show up on a piece of paper anywhere, then they're the perfect one and then there's the bad one that has the diagnosis.
So I -- I lost my home and I was -- it was -- each case is individually now decided by judges when there's minor children and that's why I have to tell you, although I had previously suffered from medical diagnosis of alcoholism which I fully own, I've been eight months in recovery at that time but the judge wanted to move the case off her desk so she picked the perfect parent, the one without the diagnosis.
And so the home that my father bought for me to raise my children in was handed over to him two days after Christmas and suddenly I found myself homeless for the first time in my life not just homeless for the first time in my life but alone. I had never spent even a single night alone of my entire life. I've been stripped of my 28 year job tucking my kids in every night singing them lullabies.
There should have been wording in place to force a burden of proof or -- or a valid reason before I lost my parental rights. There should be something in place saying that you can't just pick one. We should start out on an even playing field with shared custody and then you have to -- you have to really investigate which one deserves to have custody before you go throwing somebody out in the street.
Several days later I was not -- in standing in a courtroom after being thrust into my car in the middle of the winter and my attorney is just saying oh just sign this piece of paper, it's the only hope you ever have of getting your kids back and I -- I said if -- and he said if you don't sign it the judge is going to rule it anyway.
Well it turned out that piece of paper was me giving sole custody to my ex-husband and possession of my home that my father bought for me. Ten days later I landed in Yale-New Haven Hospital with a complete emotional breakdown and relapse.
The good news is I think then I got help and since that day I've been successfully maintaining remission of my disease, actively daily healthy lifestyle. I was told in judge's chambers back in the beginning that I needed to prove one year of sobriety and get involved in programs which I did times ten and on my own I volunteered.
So I set out in baby steps to achieve the goal. In the meantime I was humiliated and treated like a violent criminal. My children and I suffered through the traumatic experience of having to go to supervised visitation. We sat in a room twice a month for 20 minutes. Now this is after me being a full-time caregiver, 24 hours a day since they were born.
Now I'm sitting in a room twice a month for 20 minutes. It's got cinder blocks, no windows, a two-way mirror that the kids can see the people on the other side. They had nightmares about who's watching us from that window. They -- they were horrified. We'll never be the same over that.
And I never committed a single crime of neglect or abuse or harm of any kind to any of my five children. Well one year came and went and I proved everything I supposed to do. Again documentation from doctors, hospitals, programs, therapy but my case came and went. It was presented -- it was blocked by the attorney opposing and I was never given my right for a hearing.
In fact last summer the barricade even grew because the judge sitting on the bench, after we had finally gotten a hearing on the docket and we were all sitting there and six people took the day off from work to testify for me, and I -- a stack of docket is this high to prove my -- my compliance with the program, the judge said, and I quote, you don't think I'm going to hear this today do you? And my attorney said yes, Your Honor, it's on the docket. She said judges have families. It's summer. I don't have time.
So a year became a year and one half, a year and one half became two years came and went. I still haven't had my hearing in court. Yesterday I was -- a month ago my attorney swore at me purposely in front of the other opposing counsel. He looked over this shoulder to make they were listening, he swore at me and called me a liar in the hallway of the court so I started trying to find another attorney.
I combed the state for every pro bono possible and all of it came back to me saying that I had to apply through Statewide Legal which is the umbrella organization in Connecticut that you have to apply through and they called me back after I went through the whole process, said I was approved but that oops back in the beginning they answered one question from my ex-husband over the phone. That precludes me from any help in the whole State of Connecticut from any organization because of a conflict of interest.
And so now I'm standing there and my lawyer shows up yesterday and he with -- withdraws and I object and I object and the judge says I'm going to allow it. So now I'm standing there by myself thinking it's just a cus -- a status conference and I'm going to get a date for a hearing and everybody just jumped on me like -- like wolfs.
And the next thing I know I'm in mediation and I've got four people, all different directions, firing at me telling me I've got to sign this paper and if it's all about me and what are you doing back here, why aren't you working on your sobriety and -- and I -- I just said wait a minute I don't have an attorney. No I -- I'm here to just get shared joint custody for my children.
And that's all I wanted all along and I've been in compliance so two and one half years have gone by, may I have my hearing at least, my day in court? And the mediator said you're not going to get it. Based on what I'm seeing right now I would award sole custody to your ex-husband never mind joint anything and if you go to a hearing the judge is going to take my recommendation so you're done. Don't put your kids through that. Don't go through this. You're not going to win. I'm saving you. Just sign this right now.
So an hour and one half later, after being flooded from left and right, I -- I found myself in tears like the woman said and I felt like I was cut and bleeding and -- and they wouldn't allow me to bring an advocate in the room and they say I couldn't leave that office. I said may I have one night to think about this and they said no. You sign it now or it's off the table.
So I signed it but I went in front of the judge and he said you -- you signed this that you agree. I said but really I want to put on record I want co-parent counseling and -- and I also want -- they had put in a motion at the last minute just to intimidate me that they're asking for custody child support where I -- I just got a new job and I said I -- I would like that to be some kind of wording saying that you're going to hold off on that because I'm just trying to get on my feet.
They wouldn't put that wording in and absolutely refused to put any wording in about co-parenting counseling to hold my ex-husband account -- accountable. And so as -- as of yesterday I had -- I have nothing and I ended up signing where I get joint custody but someone else said it with final say to him which is exactly the same that I've been dealing with.
My little girl tried to hang herself last year. She's nine years old. When she was eight she found pornography on my ex-husband's computer. He exposed her to that. He's a computer person. He didn't block the computer. She found it on there then she brilliantly found it on her own Itouch that he gave her and didn't block. She brought it to school, for two and one half weeks all of her little buddies on the bus watched videos of pornography, eight years old.
I only found out about it because one of the parents called the school. Now I bring it to court and my lawyer won't let me bring it up in the court because he says it makes everyone uncomfortable. And I said good, good it makes them uncomfortable because I can't scrape it off the brain of my child.
And -- and now I need her to be in therapy but because I have no counseling -- no legal right, I can't make them do it so that went on. She ended up getting bullied because of that and her -- the neglect -- so many -- 310 pages worth of documentation of neglect of hygiene and -- and me asking for co-parent counseling.
The poor child smells. She's the smelliest kid in fourth grade and -- and so in April of last year I'm noticing something is going on. I call the doctors, I call the therapist, I call everyone and I -- I begged them to please see my daughter and they said we can't you have no legal right to make us and we can't help you.
Three days later in my husband's bathtub she tried to hang herself and those bruises around her neck that day I said now they'll listen to me, now. I spent hours the Thursday before crying on the phone with the pediatrician and now they'll listen to me. Wrong, I can't even bring that up in court because it looks like I'm attacking my ex-husband.
So anyways all I'm asking for is shared custody and I -- I ask for it in -- in the way -- and they accused me of asking for it -- oh I'm sorry.
Okay I just want to point out that what happened to me yesterday was a -- a massive violation of my parental rights. It's a crime and the mediator complained about how old my case is and nobody feels that passage of time more than myself and my children and my answer is to put it in the -- in the words of a song from Rent. You know it -- she said that more time has to pass, not one year, not five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, it's two years and three months and my children feel every single moment of one million fifty-nine thousand nine hundred minutes. How do you measure the time in the life of a child?
REP. GONZALEZ: Ma'am, I have a question.
MARGARET MANSFIELD: Okay.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Representative Gonzalez.
REP. GONZALEZ: And where do you go to court?
MARGARET MANSFIELD: New Haven.
REP. GONZALEZ: New Haven.
MARGARET MANSFIELD: No surprise there.
REP. GONZALEZ: And -- and who was the judge?
MARGARET MANSFIELD: Conroy, Conroy
REP. GONZALEZ: Conway?
MARGARET MANSFIELD: Yeah Conway, sorry.
A VOICE: (Inaudible).
MARGARET MANSFIELD: No yesterday's judge was Burke but the one that -- that has been -- that told me that it was summer and judges have families all along it's been Conway but yesterday was Burke.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Burke.
REP. GONZALEZ: And --and can't -- you can't go back because if you sign those papers can you go back?
MARGARET MANSFIELD: They told me I couldn't and I -- they -- they put in wording that I would have to ask permission to file any kind of a motion but she said you can ask permission all you want but we're -- it's not going to be allowed. They're just going to look at it and say you don't have enough reason no matter what.
REP. GONZALEZ: Who said that?
MARGARET MANSFIELD: The mediator, Phyllis Cummings.
REP. GONZALEZ: The mediator in New Haven.
MARGARET MANSFIELD: Yeah Phyllis Cummings had -- had told me that I lose. She said you lose. You will not get custody ever and -- and you're only going to end up losing joint custody in the final say which really to me effectively changes nothing.
REP. GONZALEZ: And when you was -- when you were seeing your -- your kids.
MARGARET MANSFIELD: Thank God I am seeing them.
REP. GONZALEZ: Oh you now are seeing --
MARGARET MANSFIELD: I do see them. They have -- they have increased the visitation at one point but again right up until this last week it was like an aunt. I would see them a couple of hours a week and I finally, through my priest, guilted them into getting me one overnight now. You know so -- so -- but I mean it's basically like they would visit a neighbor or an aunt once a month.
REP. GONZALEZ: Are you paying for supervised visits? Are they --
MARGARET MANSFIELD: In the beginning there was payment for supervised visits.
REP. GONZALEZ: For the supervised visits. A lot? How much were you paying?
MARGARET MANSFIELD: Well in the beginning I was paying out of my alimony and during all of my recovery I -- I lost 70 pounds. I did everything I was supposed to do but I -- I didn't have good income. Now I -- I'm about to start a new job at Walmart thank -- thankfully but I -- and now they're trying to -- because they said they are going to sue me for -- for child support.
REP. GONZALEZ: So if you start working then -- then they're going to ask you for child support and also to pay supervised visit or yes?
MARGARET MANSFIELD: No, no supervised visits were over.
REP. GONZALEZ: Were over.
MARGARET MANSFIELD: And that was two years ago. So I've -- I've moved. A little at a time they would toss me a bone once in a while and say okay maybe not supervised but you have to -- you have to do it in front of a -- a family member that's approved by him and they have to sit there and watch you play with your kids.
It's so unnatural and so harmful to the children. I -- I swear they had nightmares. My daughter said mommy I had a nightmare last night somebody was watching me and they were going to kill me from behind the mirror.
And I -- you know I -- I mean that stuff messes with their heads and it wasn't bad enough that she had to that non -- then she had to see the pornography and nobody would let me talk to her that day. And -- and I -- you know nobody would let me put my arms around her and here's the -- the killer about it I was on the school property setting up my sound equipment to donate my services for a show that day and the school social worker knows me from my church but in never occurred to her to call me because I don't have custodial rights.
She called my ex-husband while my daughter sat in a chair crying for two hours because she couldn't get through to my ex-husband. I'm down the hall in the gym and it never occurred to her because I don't have custodial rights. I don't know.
REP. GONZALEZ: Well thank -- thank you.
MARGARET MANSFIELD: I appreciate it.
REP. GONZALEZ: But I would like to talk to you before you leave.
MARGARET MANSFIELD: Okay. I -- I really am thankful for my father and other veterans for allowing me the first amendment and opportunity to stand here and speak to this today.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Annette Nunez. Richard Wax. Shirley Pripstein. Edie McClure. Monica Peters. Charles Crenshaw.
CHARLES R. CRENSHAW: Good evening.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Good evening.
CHARLES R. CRENSHAW: I've been sitting here all afternoon and re-writing and trashing things out because I don't want to repeat things that were said earlier. So I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to -- on behalf of Raised Bill No. 6688 -- I think I'll get a glass of water.
My name is Charles Crenshaw. I live in the town of Bloomfield. Mr. Maturo he has testified already and I don't want to repeat things that he said but I will say as he did that I'm appreciative to those members of the Committee who worked on Raised Bill 6688 and I'm not going to repeat all of his support for the bill.
However, I'm here today to offer my support for this bill on a limited basis. I heard this bill is a step in the right direction and I'm glad to see that the issue of alimony is finally getting some deserved attention.
However, I'm concerned that this bill, as written, does not adequately or specifically address the issue of lifetime or permanent alimony. The language is still vague. It's unclear and subject to interpretation. With this bill alimony awards will continue to be random, arbitrary, discretionary depending on the individual goals and the attitudes of the court.
If -- if this bill does go forward, it should do so with the understanding that the issue of lifetime alimony will be studied and reviewed and if I've read this bill correctly Section 5 speaks to this issue and I would say let's make sure that that happens.
The issue of lifetime alimony is one that's near and dear to my heart as I'm currently under a divorce ruling to provide palimony to my ex-wife until my death. I've been paying a substantial amount of alimony for years with no end in sight.
I'm one month shy of my 69th birthday, two months shy of my 45th anniversary at my place of business. I should have retired at least seven years ago at the age of 62. However I feel like I'm being chained and shackled to a carcass of a dead marriage. This inhibits me from going forward with my life. The term until death do us part has new meaning.
Meanwhile my ex-wife, who is the one conscientiously desired and initiated this so-called no fault divorce, is physically, mentally, educationally capable of obtaining employment to ade -- adequately support herself and achieve financial independence.
I ask the question why am I forced to keep working to support her? Why is she allowed to profit from my hard work and my dreams?
This system of what I call marital welfare encourages my ex-wife to maintain a low or no income as its -- as so as not to jeopardize her eligibility to continue to receive alimony. I'm going to skip through this.
I would suggest a review of the alimony statutes of other states that have provided guidelines for alimony. For example, Rhode Island general law states, and I quote, alimony is designed to provide support for a reasonable length of time to enable the recipient to become financially independent and self-sufficient.
I think it's time for the Connecticut alimony statutes to be brought into the 21st century and be revised to be more reasonable, sensible and allow the payers to move on with their lives free of this never ending burden.
Again thank you for allowing me to speak today. If you have any questions I'd be glad to address them at this time.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Mr. Crenshaw, what was the length of your marriage?
CHARLES R. CRENSHAW: Twenty-four years, 10 months, seven days.
SENATOR COLEMAN: And did anybody ever try to explain why you ended up with a lifetime alimony obligation?
CHARLES R. CRENSHAW: I was -- well I was told that particularly in the State of Connecticut if you're married in excess of 20 years the judge would typically issue lifetime alimony. So even going into this I was told that you're going to get lifetime alimony.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Okay.
CHARLES R. CRENSHAW: And that's when I said so I get a life sentence.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Any other members have questions?
If not, thank you for patience. Thank you for your testimony.
CHARLES R. CRENSHAW: Okay thank you for letting me speak.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Gregg Marchand.
GREGG MARCHAND: Good evening to the Judiciary Committee.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Good evening.
GREGG MARCHAND: I'm Gregg Marchand from Willimantic and I oppose H.B. No. 6674, a raised ACT CONCERNING ENGAGING AN OFFICER IN PURSUIT. The reason I appro -- oppose this because there are certain criteria where an immediate stop is not possible.
Such as if a person, whether it's an older gentleman or a pretty young lady or anybody in between all of a sudden is being followed by what seems to be a police cruiser. The first thought is pull over. But it's nighttime and the driver is skeptical thinking is this really a pol -- the police behind me?
So for safety sake the driver wants to pull over but in a public place. If this is what -- if this is what was to happen, the driver will be charged with engaging an officer in pursuit. This being the case all police cruisers must have video cameras. This camera will show and prove accountability of the driver and the officer.
Even though the driver does pull over, the officer should get on the intercom and identify himself and then tell the driver to go to the nearest public property such as a 24-hour gas station, et cetera.
We all know police are here to protect and serve not to scare and instigate the situation. Besides police do have a strenuous job and some may be on drugs therefore no one knows how a routine stop may turn out. After all police are not randomly drug tested, therefore, a reaction from an officer during a pull over may not be properly done on the grounds of the officer may be on drugs or the anabolic steroid.
And a roadblock scenario to me is ridiculous on the grounds of the roadblock is unconstitutional. In the first place it reminds me of Nazi Germany days where the Gestapo will yell halt netz sehen dein papiere, in English stop let me see your papers.
Lawmakers are responsible to represent us as Connecticut citizens yet you pass laws that are violating our civil liberties. I would think any aspect of a new law that tramples our civil liberties and/or any part of our U.S. Constitution would be -- automatically be denied on the grounds of the idea being unconstitutional. I tell you something stinks in Connecticut and it's fascist ideas that become law.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Are there questions for Mr. Martouch -- Marchand?
Thank you for your patience.
GREGG MARCHAND: Thanks, have a nice night.
SENATOR COLEMAN: You have a nice night and a nice weekend.
GREGG MARCHAND: Thanks.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Nancy Pannel. Henry Martocchio.
HENRY J. MARTOCCHIO: Good day, Senator Coleman. Thank you for having me on your mind when you said Martocchio earlier. Representatives, I appreciate you guys spending the day here and really taking great interest in what's going on in our family court systems today.
Not wanting to stay the whole day because I do have a nine year old autistic son at home presently in the care of my support staff, they agreed to stay late so that I could give this testimony today to you people.
I appreciate the opportunity. So as of this morning I emailed you my latest and greatest work. As Senator Coleman knows I'm an advocate for the disabled. Every bill that we've heard today in regards to any modifications or any proposed settlements from even we're going to say 6682, 6688, 6690, 1159 has to do with my problem of not seeing in 2013 the State of Connecticut doing self-evaluations of the American Disabilities Act.
If we had transitioning plans to establish where we are discriminating against the disabled, I'll take it first to the animals that everybody's had so much heart about today. I will go next to the parents that -- that people have denied the fundamental rights, like me, a fit person who stepped into the courtroom arena and to Attorney Kiefer I do apologize for what he did say.
Those people, he should have said those people that are in the court systems because I personally cannot relate to nobody that has not been throughout the court system. Nobody can understand the nightmare that I've lived as a fit father with an autistic child being run down by a -- third party grandparents, being denied my civil rights by Judge Shluger.
I will talk today next week. I've given you this brief and inside this brief now because my ADA coordinators for the State of Connecticut Judicial Department does not exist. Thus I've told Chief Justice Rogers this in -- in -- in the public meeting for the rules commission last week or the week before, there's a public transcript.
I am disappointed with my state. Twenty-three years after the American Disabilities Act was passed we're still non-compliant. I have a Donald DeFrancis, an ADA coordinator, that refuses to answer any of my emails. As Senator Coleman knows I had to unfortunately cc him on this, on every complaint I've made -- ADA complaint I've made and that's very powerful stuff guys because underneath the Commerce Fifth Rule Committee I don't need permission to sue any of you.
I don't need permission to sue the State of Connecticut. You take federal funding and this is what everybody doesn't comprehend. We run the dads 90 (inaudible) -- 95 percent of fathers according to the Fatherhood Task Force in 2008 claim that 95 percent of us pay child support.
I got a mother that's testified. I've got all the transcripts. I'm being denied today to get more transcripts left and right from Judge Avery-Whetstone even though I live on SSI for my son.
I had to terminate my mother -- the mother because the facts were she's a danger to herself. I have a child that cannot give me effective communication but yet Judge Shluger he's got a parent-like rela -- relationship with a third party that I've asked these courts to address five different times.
I've federally removed guys. I think kickback. I've been to the clu -- Supreme Court -- or let me sort of back up, I've been to the Appellate Court. They said I never, underneath 4656 which is a controversy between two parents guys that has not been tested constitutionally for a third party just to walk in the door, the Appellate Court says Mr. Martocchio you never appealed the matter, nulled and void, see you later.
I hit them on (inaudible). I hit them on -- on reconsideration. I've run this to the Supreme Court guys. These are all things that a parent, just to be a parent, should not have to do. This is crazy. This is ludicrous.
And what the courts are doing is going after the weaker parent. The presumption of -- of -- I -- I'll wrap it up, I'm sorry I heard --
A VOICE: (Inaudible).
HENRY J. MARTOCCHIO: -- the presumption -- I do support this -- this bill 100 percent on -- on the act of parent alienation. I've been alienated from a third party. I feel today, Senator Coleman, that if we start this movement on this bill we can adopt. Senator Meyer sat there and said well isn't it already -- no, no, no wait a minute if we put in this bill absence neglect of abuse or -- or by the fair preponderance of evidence the same standards that we're using for the third party and we'll call it the bright-line rules, correct? That's a federal rule and it has to do with rights to remain silent. It has the right for the -- the government to intervene first. They just can't go on a fishing trip guys and find out who is the bad parent. That's illegal. That's unconstitutional.
This is -- comes down to the GALs. I've had a GAL testify inside of Judge Avery-Whetstone. Do I have to go back in front of her in a couple of more weeks and deal with this again? And she's sat there and removed my ability to filing any motions, this was last time around, that's why I had to federally remove, violation of due process rights.
It's just insane guys. I am here as a parent begging you please let's make some changes. Come to me, Senator Coleman, sit down. We had a private meeting. Find a way that we can avoid going through the Judiciary Committee -- or go -- go through the Judiciary itself and poll the people directly using the services of the State of Connecticut.
Our idea was a simple little forum. Let them come in and email you guys directly on what is going on in these family courts. I do not understand how a GAL can lie on the stand. I pull out a prescription pad from the doctor saying that you never called her. You never talk -- this is a prescription pad. This is a doctor's note to get narcotics in this state and yet that couldn't be introduced to evidence because I was told the doctor wasn't here and the burden was on me to bring that doctor into court.
That doctor was $500 an hour. Mr. Keifer was $250 an hour. Thank God Mr. Keifer turned around and -- and wiped out a $26,000 bill from me. I can't afford this guys. Where -- where do I have to (inaudible) and say okay the specialties in medicines for my son, which are not covered by -- by the typical medicine -- by typical insurance, the traditional medicine does not recognized by immune deficiencies in kids versus paying an attorney to defend what my God given rights are.
And again the -- the state has never addressed how they have subject matter jurisdiction. I've wrote it in the brief. I have everything in the brief. The presumption is if you don't speak up and be an SOB in the beginning, the courts automatically presume we can do that.
But yet you're labeled instantly a bad person guys. This is the wrong part and I'm not trying to work against the system. I'm trying to work what's best for my child and not have government interference in my family autonomy.
This is -- I don't -- I don't know how to say this guys. I know every group, Representative, that's in the state. Please tell me who -- who I'm missing that -- that can help force this subject further. We've begged for funding. We can't keep digging in our pockets. I can't keep on going to Staples and having $150 cost just so the Supreme Court can say denied.
Even though Chief Justice Rogers has never heard of subjects I've brought up, even though the public will and policy is there, even though -- it -- it's almost like it's a -- it's a State's Attorney General's playground. I've addressed this with four different -- three different State's Attorney Generals and everybody wants to put their hands down.
But yet Blumenthal in Tennessee Lane has breached that we're in compliance. Look up the case Tennessee v. Lane. Another great one Popovich. Look these up. These are the matters of the ADA. Just give us the right to be in the courts with effective communication and not get beat up for being disabled.
I think there's a lot of disabled people that go over and beyond what a typical per -- or -- or person takes for advantage every day and -- and I'm not trying to put down or use that as an example. For a person to come all the way up here in a wheelchair that is unbelievable what you and me take for as a -- granted as -- as a -- an accomplishment that we don't even recognize every day.
I know my son fights every day for the fact that his social impairment and the way he works it and everything like that. Yet I'm court ordered and I'll go to jail -- I'll go to hell first before this court -- the state tells me I have to turn my child over to somebody who is not a parent.
I recognize they're a grandparent. I do that but it's not in his best interests for me to do this. Thus that makes me an accomplisher if I do it. So now I've taken the -- the role as a fit parent. I'm willing to go to jail. Do what you're going to do to me. This government has taken away my right to give maximum intervention to my child at an early age.
I'll show you fraud. You want to talk about fraud, it's in my brief history. I'll show -- and how every department has defrauded my parental rights. I didn't know about my child until he was two years old -- two and one half years old roughly. Then I was sent a letter that everybody hid from me.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Mr. Martocchio, time to summarize.
HENRY J. MARTOCCHIO: My summary is guys we need the ADA protection in this state. We need to seriously start asking Chief Justice Rogers to do her job and appoint somebody accountable. We have three gun courts in this state. I have nowhere to go to for my 14th Amendment due process rights under the American Disabilities Act or does anyone else that is perceived as disabled because that's our biggest problem guys today.
Right now it's one out of 96 children according to the CDC. It's really -- in -- in my organizations we're going to see -- we think the rates are one in 50. What's the state going to do when one in 50 cases have somebody with a major, major social impairment? Are -- are the judges going to really strip them of the right to be a parent or are we going to try to include them as being a parent equal and the same as anyone else that had no disability?
And that's my whole point guys. I want to help. Please contact me. I -- I -- I've -- I've begged for years, Senator Coleman, and -- and I'm not putting this on your shoulders at all but there's other people that we've cc'd in -- in my briefs and nobody wants to do nothing.
There has to be a time in the life when the state says you know what we are doing wrong and -- and you know what take the -- take the bite for the day because this only going to promote what public will and policy is.
And -- and I think the shared parenting bill, and we can tweak it guys to -- to add some more language to it to say hey listen going into court we automatically know, absent neglect or abuse and by clear and convincing evidence God willing, everyone's going to have that right to be a parent.
I'm not saying it's going to be 50/50, 60/60 what -- whatever as long as somebody is there and they're able to unobstructively be with their child that's the key. That's the key. That would take and strip all these lawyers from their abilities to strip people of thousands and -- and -- and most of all it's the child's future, their financial future, that -- that's being stripped from this child or in my case it was my right to instead of give lawyers $45,000 and if I add Louis Keifer's bill to it I became a pro se. This is why they hate me because I'm not standing in front of no other judge again to rule on profit.
I'm fighting for my child. I'm not going to plea bargain guys. And -- and most parents that are fit aren't going to plea bargain and they're going to speak the truth and they're going to speak until they're blue in the face and I appreciate you on this Friday night but I've got to go home to my Nathan because I miss my little buddy guys.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Any members have questions for Mr. Martocchio?
HENRY J. MARTOCCHIO: No?
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you for your presentation.
HENRY J. MARTOCCHIO: No thank you guys for staying extra late tonight. We appreciate it and again we're willing to help you guys form this. We have to do it outside the judicial, separation of powers. They have to do what you guys say.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you.
Dan Lynch is next.
DANIEL M. LYNCH: Good evening.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Good evening.
DANIEL M. LYNCH: And I find myself very emotional before I even start speaking just listening to some of the comments from everybody else here today. So I'm a bit overwhelmed before I even start.
I recognize we have three minutes so my name is Dan Lynch. I was born and raised in Waterbury, lived there for my first 20 years. Moved to the Boston area for about 10 and then came home. I've lived in Trumbull for the last 19 years.
I'm the father of two adult teenage daughters. In August of 1963 when I was one and a half Martin Luther King gave a speech. I didn't hear it I don't think, maybe I did I don't know. But I'm making a point to listen to it every February and there's one line from that speech that explains why I'm here today.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. My daughters matter. My role as a father matters. Laws that impact my ability to parent and my finances matter. I'm testifying and I have submitted five pages of written testimony, by the way, because I knew I might be a little emotional.
I am here to support four specific bills. My written testimony notes three, there is a fourth. I'm in support of 6685 pertaining to custody. You've heard many great comments; 6688 regarding the alimony revisions; 1155 regarding the visions to the dissolution statutes and also 1156 which deals with right to a jury trial for those who feel that they've been discriminated against in certain issues.
And as I've mentioned I've submitted five pages of written testimony. I -- I know it's a lot to ask -- to ask because I've read many of them that are out there. I've spent many, many hours over the last few days reading the other testimonies. I would ask please read my five pages.
The family courts in the State of Connecticut are not only broken but they are being exploited from within and I recognize these are very strong words. I apologize if the lamp is blocking our view. My house is on the brink of foreclosure, a home that I've paid for in Trumbull as a taxpayer for 19 years. Three decades of retirement savings are gone. I'm $250,000 in debt in the last five years because of the courts, directly because of the courts, all very well documented.
And the IRS also has me in collections. IRS doesn't con -- isn't concerned with the local jurisdiction. Local jurisdiction doesn't seem to be concerned with about the IRS. I have to be concerned about both.
And in 2008/2009 you might be surprised to hear that's -- that's the period during which my wife and I, a 17 year marriage, we -- went through divorce. We lived together during our divorce. That's the piece that you might be surprised to hear. We were both -- were -- were both, and still are both, very good parents.
Attorneys enter the mix and they recognize that there's money at play and there's maybe controversy that they can stir up. And maybe they could suggest maybe inappropriate behavior and all -- a whole range of other things that could be suggested that perhaps maybe sways financial awards and certainly pads their -- their take home.
And -- and I think that some attorneys recognize -- they fail to realize that when you say the best interests of the children it's the parties children not their children that are supposed to be the best interests.
The result of the trial out of the Bridgeport courts the judge was a former member of this Committee. Some people call him the Honorable Howard T. Owens, Jr. I find nothing honorable about the man and I mean no disrespect to any member of the Committee when I say that. I have very strong, very well documented reasons why I say what I say.
The series of punitive orders that were issued in a mundane divorce that should have been a -- been a 90 day matter which dragged on for first what I thought was going to be a year and one half, the series of punitive orders and the fact that I chose to stand up to the punitive orders and question them with properly filed motions what was my reward for that? My reward for challenging his authority by filing an appeal when the initial motions to reargue and reconsider the very carefully documented errors were brought to the court's attention but they have the discretion. The judges have the discretion to dismiss those and routinely do.
And I exercised my right to an appeal. Three days later I was incarcerated for the first time of my life. They removed my tie. They removed my belt. They removed my shoe laces before I got to the elevator, made a public spectacle of me so that the judge can remind me in front of everybody who is wearing the robe that day and ever since.
A month later I was ordered to vacate my house on December 21st, four days before Christmas. Incidentally that court order included 50/50 physical parenting, 50/50 legal and physical parenting. Ordered me to -- ordered me to move from the house with no change in my court-ordered parental responsibilities, okay?
I find myself quite fortunate by the way. I saw my daughter today before I came here, okay? She lives with me half the time. My other daughter is in college. There certainly was alienation, still some issues, but compared to some of the things that I've heard today I'm amazed, I'm humbled. I consider myself fortunate.
It took me two and one half years before the court -- the Appellate Court responded and issued a decision in my case. I won my appeal. They threw out all the -- I'm sorry I shouldn't say all, the -- the overwhelming majority of the financial issues in my case were all overturned. They twice in their document noted that the court had -- had abused its discretion. The Appellate Court cannot undo the experience of a strip search in the Bridgeport prisons or being shackled along with a whole chain of others and -- and schlepped in the paddy wagon and processed in. They can never undo that.
The Appellate Court can never bring back my daughter's senior prom and the fact that a mother who was alienating and because I was no longer in the house I wasn't even allowed to go to the house to take pictures. There are many things that the Appellate Court cannot fix.
The Judicial Review Council is an absolute joke. The process for judicial review is a joke. I have submitted probably, and I don't know this to be fact, but I would suggest respectfully that I have submitted two of the most well-documented briefs to the Judicial Review Council that they've probably ever seen.
What was their reaction? Their reaction was month after month after month after month to tell me why the meeting was postponed, canceled, it wasn't heard, there was a snow storm, so and so couldn't make the meeting, who had hip surgery. I -- I lost track of all the excuses. The poor woman who works there is -- is -- I've never met her, very wonderful on -- on the phone, Remy Edwards.
Once a month I'd call, after the first few months she knew my voice. Hi Remy it's Dan Lynch from Trumbull how are you, any news yet? A year later both my complaints were dismissed with a one page letter. There's no Appellate right to that. It was swept under the rug.
Precisely hi -- how my Appellate attorney had said to me, my very well respected Appellate attorney of 52 or 53 years, he's been practicing longer than I've been alive, and he pleaded with me not to send it. Suggested that perhaps there might be retaliation if I sent it and that it wouldn't matter, nothing would happen. I sent it anyway because of those words of Martin Luther King, the day we become silent about things that matter is when our life begins to end.
The statewide grievance committee is equally a joke. Those of you, and I'm sorry I don't know all your backgrounds, those of you who are attorneys know, okay, that many of the grievances don't result -- they might maybe sometimes maybe result in a reprimand, okay, maybe.
I'll -- I'll try to wrap up and I'm sorry. I filed two equally detailed grievances against opposing counsel about very specific acts of misconduct that took place in my case. I tried to bring that misconduct to the attention of the judge but surprise this was also a judge who I had filed a grievance against.
When my attorney at the time requested withdrawal from the case he was allowed to withdraw from the case. The judge ordered me to file a pro se appearance with no legal background. They created a monster.
I'm a small business owner. Ten years I've had my own business in the State of Connecticut. Paid personal taxes, paid business taxes. I spent much of my time now reading the practice book, reading the statutes, learning the rules and defending myself in now three separate cases.
I'm being sued by my former counsel for unpaid fees. Two weeks ago I testified along with several others who I recognize today. I don't know them. I've met them at occasions on functions. Two weeks ago I testified at a public hearing before the -- the State Supreme Court. There were about 15 or 20 others who testified. I believe that I was one of only three people who had the courage to testify using a real name. Such is the fear of retaliation in the courts that many who appeared that day on March 25th testified as John Doe or Jane Doe. Someone testified as Betsy Ross I think. Someone testified as Patrick Henry.
I testified as Dan Lynch from Trumbull, Connecticut and I'm proud of my remarks. I was respectful, I was within my time limit that day. Not today I'm sorry I'm almost done.
Please don't misunderstand my comments today -- tonight. I am not here -- and -- and if it comes across the wrong way I do apologize, I am not here to complain. I am here to offer to be part of the solution.
You can call me. You can email me any day, any time. My name is Dan Lynch. I'm very easy to find on the internet. Dan Lynch, Trumbull. I'm a professional genealogist. I speak all around the world on the topic of family history. I'm very proud of my heritage to Waterbury, to the State of Connecticut but I am embarrassed -- I'm embarrassed for the State of Connecticut at what takes place in this state and what continues to take place in this state right now and I will be a voice in this state.
I would close -- and -- and that was my closing remark is to remind anybody if you're looking for free volunteer professional input, not someone with an ax to grind, someone who wants to see this solved. Senator Kissel was here for quite some time. I have a brother ten years younger who lives in his district, two great nephews who live there.
I lived -- Representative Fox I've -- not lived in but I've -- I've worked there for a number of years in -- in your district. It's a -- it's a very emotional topic as I'm sure you knew but as I am sure you saw today. I only was -- I only saw a small piece because I had work obligations and parenting obligations that prevented me from getting here until 4:30.
But I will say that the retaliation that takes place within the court systems is not only real and sadly and very respectfully, I must also say, that it doesn't end with the courts. There are members on this very Committee -- I sent emails to every single member of this Committee in mid-January of this year after both my own Representative and my own Senator refused to sponsor four bills -- or proposed bills which I had drafted and very carefully researched and they were all written in the very proper format, right?
I -- I don't expect everybody to agree with everything that I say but, you know what, let's -- let's at least put it on the table. I wasn't aware, of course at the time, that Senator Musto spends a portion of his time as a divorce attorney. I wasn't aware of that, right?
I moved forward, sent the emails. I got the notices back from too many members of the Committee that my email had been deleted without even being read. No -- nobody here I am proud to say but I didn't -- I didn't hear back from anyone. I was asking the question how -- what's the process for me to go through? I've sent it to legislative aides. Where's the process for me to go to when my own Representatives in the state are not interested in bringing something forward?
And so I -- I'm going to stop there but I do -- I -- I deeply and sincerely appreciate the fact that after a very difficult few weeks here in Hartford -- historic few weeks here in Hartford and in a long week and in a long day I -- I deeply appreciate the that fact that you've listened to some emotionally charged testimony today, not -- not mine but all the others and I appreciate that.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Lynch.
Are there questions for the gentleman?
There are no questions. Thank you.
DANIEL M. LYNCH: Have a good weekend.
SENATOR COLEMAN: Mr. Lynch was the last person to sign our list. I don't see anyone in the audience who hasn't spoken. If there is someone who wishes to address the Committee and hasn't had an opportunity to do so, they should come forward now.
Seeing no one approaching, I will assume that everyone who wanted to speak to us has spoken to us and therefore I will close this public hearing.
Thank you all.
Thank you members and staff and those members of the public who've addressed the Committee today.